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Wednesday, May 03, 2006
(AP) ALEXANDRIA, VA - A federal jury rejected the death penalty for al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui on Wednesday and decided he must spend life in prison for his role in the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.
After seven days of deliberation, the nine men and three women rebuffed the government's appeal for death for the only person charged in this country in the four suicide jetliner hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
Three jurors said Moussaoui had only limited knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot and three described his role in the attacks as minor, if he had any role at all.
Moussaoui, as he was led from the courtroom after the 15-minute hearing, said: "America, you lost. ... I won." He clapped his hands as he was escorted away.
Some victims' families said he got what he deserved. "I do know the jury made the right decision," said Abraham Scott, who lost his wife Janice Marie Scott in the attack on the Pentagon. "Justice has been served today."
Rosemary Dillard, whose husband Eddie died in the attacks, said of Moussaoui: "He's a bad man, but we have a fair society." She said of terrorists: "We will treat them with respect no matter what they do to us."
From the White House, President Bush said the verdict "represents the end of this case but not an end to the fight against terror."
The verdict came after four years of legal maneuvering and a six-week trial that put jurors on an emotional roller coaster and gave the 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent a platform to taunt Americans. The judge was to hand down the life sentence Thursday morning, bound by the jury's verdict.
The jury did not reach the unanimity required for a death sentence against the man who claimed a direct role in the Sept. 11 attacks even though he was in jail at the time on immigration charges.
During the trial, no one contested the contention that Moussaoui came to the United States intending to do harm and that he received flight training toward that goal. But his lawyers contended he was an al-Qaida outcast who was not trusted with the knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot.
The jurors agreed unanimously Moussaoui "knowingly created a grave risk of death" for more than the intended victims of Sept. 11 and committed his acts with "substantial planning" — accepting two of the aggravating factors necessary for a death sentence.
But they did not give sufficient weight to those findings to reach a death sentence, balancing them against mitigating factors offered by the defense. Jurors did not, however, accept defense arguments that Moussaoui was mentally ill.
When the verdict was announced, Moussaoui showed no visible reaction and sat slouched in his chair, refusing to stand with his defense team. He had declined to cooperate with his court-appointed lawyers throughout the trial.
When the jurors came into the room, a couple of them looked directly at Moussaoui but most did not, looking at the judge instead. They all wore sober expressions. One dark-haired young man shook his head no before the verdict was read.
When the judge asked the jurors if their verdict was the same on all three counts, the forewoman, a high school math teacher, was joined by several other jurors in answering, "Yes."
The verdict was received with silence in the packed courtroom, where one row was lined with victims' families.
The jurors were divided on the 23 mitigating factors in the case, from whether the defendant's role in the Sept. 11 attacks was only minor — three said his role "if any" was minor — and whether the Moroccan was subject to racism as a child — three said he was.
The closest the jurors came to unanimity in finding mitigating factors was on two questions. Nine found that Moussaoui's father had a violent temper and physically and emotionally abused his family. Nine also found that his unstable early childhood and dysfunctional family resulted in his leaving home.
In their successful defense of Moussaoui, his lawyers revealed new levels of pre-attack bungling of intelligence by the FBI and other government agencies. By the trial's end, the defense team was portraying its uncooperative client as a delusional schizophrenic. They argued he took the witness stand to confess a role in Sept. 11 that he never had — all to achieve martyrdom through execution or for recognition in history.
They overcame the impact of two dramatic appearances by Moussaoui himself — first to renounce his four years of denying any involvement in the attacks and then to gloat over the pain of those who lost loved ones.
Using evidence gathered in the largest investigation in U.S. history, prosecutors achieved a preliminary victory last month when the jury ruled Moussaoui's lies to federal agents a month before the attacks made him eligible for the death penalty because they kept agents from discovering some of the hijackers.
But even with heart-rending testimony from nearly four dozen victims and their relatives — testimony that forced some jurors to wipe their eyes — the jury was not convinced that Moussaoui, who was in jail on Sept. 11, deserved to die.
The case broke new ground in the understanding of Sept. 11 — releasing to the public the first transcript and playing in court the cockpit tape of United 93's last half hour. The tape captured the sounds of terrorists hijacking the aircraft over Pennsylvania and passengers trying to retake the jet until it crashed in a field.
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