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Moussaoui's Fate Now in Jury's Hands


Here in the U.S., the fate of a confessed of al-Qaida conspirator is now in the hands of a federal jury. Deliberations began yesterday after prosecutors said in closing arguments, quote, "There is no place on this good earth for Zacharias Moussaoui." They asked for death sentence. Defense attorneys asked jurors to find the courage to sentence Moussaoui to life. NPR's Larry Abramson reports.


The government's closing argument was full of rhetorical questions and instructions on how to fill out the jury form, all intended to simplify the jury's complex task. If the death penalty is not appropriate in this case, then when is it? demanded prosecutor David Novak. How about the way the victims died? He went on, displaying the picture of a charred body introduced during the trial. How many people have to die in the service of their country? he asked, as he remembered the hundreds of police officers, firemen, and other government officials who perished.

Novak's next question: How about the utter lack of remorse that Moussaoui demonstrated when he testified? As if on cue, Moussaoui displayed a broad grin. Novak also tried to brush aside the issue of Moussaoui's sanity with a question. Who cares if he's schizophrenic? he said. "He sure wasn't schizophrenic when he joined al-Qaida.

Novak also made light of the idea that what Moussaoui really wants is to be a martyr. If he wanted to kill himself, he would have climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower and just jumped, Novak said. Moussaoui's mission, he said, is murder, not suicide. And Novak insisted Moussaoui would be a danger, even in federal prison for life.

Defense attorney Gerald Zerkin tried to take the focus off Moussaoui, saying that the verdict is about us. He said jurors should not influenced by the fact that Moussaoui appears so nonchalant in court. All he seems to be missing, Zerkin said, is a beach umbrella and a pina colada. But that calm, Zerkin said, really shows he's just inept.

He reminded jurors that Moussaoui had insisted on testifying, even though his attorneys had advised strongly against it. Zerkin told jurors that Moussaoui's lack of remorse is just proof he wants to die. Death is what he wants, and what he can only get if you accommodate him, Zerkin said.

Family members who have attended much of this trial said they were relieved to see the case go to the jury. Abraham Scott, who lost his wife at the Pentagon, supports the death penalty for Moussaoui, but he said the jury, not family members, should decide.

Mr. ABRAHAM SCOTT (Husband of 9/11 Victim): This is justice. This is not in terms of pleasing the family members of the victims. This is justice for--of a crime that--the heinous crime that was done on 9/11.

ABRAMSON: But at least one family member was offended by one of the defense arguments. Debra Burlingame(ph) is the sister of the pilot whose plane hit the Pentagon.

Ms. DEBRA BURLINGAME (Sister of 9/11 Victim): The defense attorney, at the very end, in his presentation, made an argument which, frankly I find utterly and completely insulting to the victims in this case, which is that we're here because we're, we want some kind of grief therapy, and that somehow executing Zacarias will cure us of any emotional problems we have. And that is nothing but pure hogwash.

ABRAMSON: After the jury left, Judge Leonie Brinkema paid tribute to the attorneys for both sides, to the government for the quantity and quality of the evidence, and to the defense, for working with a man she called an impossible client. Brinkema said Moussaoui will never appreciate what his lawyers have done, and she said she truly thought he'd gotten a fair trial.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, at the Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

MONTAGNE: And you can read about the unusual courtroom atmosphere of the Moussaoui trial at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

United States & World Morning Edition
Larry Abramson is NPR's National Security Correspondent. He covers the Pentagon, as well as issues relating to the thousands of vets returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.