© 2022 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Moussaoui Defiant in Face Death Penalty Ruling

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

A federal jury is not finished deciding the fate of Zacarias Moussaoui. The jury has found the confessed terrorist is eligible for the death penalty. That's the first part of its work. Now the same people will decide if Moussaoui deserves to be executed.

The defendant's courtroom behavior has dominated much of this trial, and yesterday was no exception, as NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.

LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:

Spectators in the courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, could hear Moussaoui hollering in the hallway, even before he got to the courtroom. At one point, several marshals left the room to help quiet him. When Moussaoui finally took his seat, he was wearing his usual green jumpsuit and white knit cap. He rocked slightly and appeared to be chanting. Then when the court clerk asked him to rise, he cupped the chair's armrest with his hands and refused to stand up. Nevertheless, the jury of nine men and three women found him eligible for death on all three counts of conspiracy to commit terrorism.

Outside, in front of a courthouse, Court Spokesman Edward Adams made the announcement.

Mr. EDWARD ADAMS (Court Spokesman): By this verdict, the jury has found that death is a possible sentence in this case.

SULLIVAN: Inside, Moussaoui barely seemed to be paying attention. He continued to mumble repeatedly, and at one point, turned around to look at the clock. Then just as he has done every court day for the past month, he waited for jurors to leave. When the door closed behind them, he yelled, you will never get my blood! God curse you all.

Several family members of 9/11 victims flinched.

Mr. ABRAHAM SCOTT: I describe him like a dog with rabies, one that cannot be cured and the only cure is to put him or her to their death.

SULLIVAN: Abraham Scott's wife died at the Pentagon. Seated next to him in the courtroom was Rosemary Dillard, whose husband Eddie was on the flight that hit the Pentagon.

Ms. ROSEMARIE DILLARD: For him to leave the courtroom and say you can't have my soul? I mean, this man has no soul, he has no conscience. So what else could we ask for than this, for this part to end in this manner?

SULLIVAN: Dillard and other family members hugged prosecutors as they left the courtroom. Privately, though, some of them expressed worry that if Moussaoui is executed, he will be getting what he wants or worse, will become a martyr. That idea is likely to reemerge during the second phase.

Defense attorneys also have signaled that they plan to present evidence about Moussaoui's mental state and his childhood. They plan to show an impoverished youth left at the hands of an abusive father and a racist French society.

Mr. RICHARD JAFFE (Defense Attorney, Zacarias Moussaoui): You have to make that person a breathing, live human being who has goodness inside of him, regardless of the act he is supposed to have done.

SULLIVAN: Richard Jaffe has spent 30 years representing defendants facing death from both state and federal prosecutors, including serial bomber Eric Rudolph. But he says in this case, that may not be so easy. Jaffe says Moussaoui has all but tied his lawyers' hands--first, with his outburst and contemptuous treatment of his own attorneys, and second, by bragging to jurors that he wants to kill more Americans.

Mr. JAFFE: To defend someone that is that uncontrollable and whose agenda is completely antithetical to the criminal justice system would be the worst nightmare of any lawyer. When our clients insist on their cause being more important than their life, the frustration and the loneliness associated with that is unbearable.

SULLIVAN: Defense attorneys have argued for years that Moussaoui is mentally unstable, going so far as to say that he suffers from schizophrenia. But Moussaoui has strongly denied that. He fired his lawyers and became his own attorney for a time, right after the lawyers raised the issue of his mental health for the first time. Lawyers on both sides will spend the next few days arguing over how much mental health testimony there will be, and whether a secret report on Moussaoui's mental state will be shown to jurors.

Prosecutors for their part told the judge they are ready to start presenting their witnesses. They have already lined up as many as 40 victims' family members who want to tell jurors what 9/11 was like for them, and what it has been like to live without their loved ones. They may get their chance as early as Thursday, when the second phase of Moussaoui's sentencing trial is scheduled to begin.

Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sullivan
Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.