Image: Moussaoui trial
Dana Verkouteren  /  AP
This court sketch shows Zacarias Moussaoui's defense attorney Gerald Zerkin, second from right, questioning Dr. Michael First, second from left, as Moussaoui, left, and his defense lawyers listen in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. on Wednesday.
updated 4/19/2006 6:56:02 PM ET 2006-04-19T22:56:02

Two relatives of Sept. 11 victims testified for the defense Wednesday in Zacarias Moussaoui’s death-penalty sentencing trial. One told the jury her family does not want to “get caught in a whirlpool of sadness and anger.”

Medical sociologist Marilynn Rosenthal, whose son Josh was killed at the World Trade Center, said her family feels strongly “something good has to come out of what happened” and family members have endowed an annual lecture on 9/11 at the University of Michigan, where she teaches.

Robin Theurkauf, whose husband, Tom, died in the South Tower, also testified that “the Bible attempts to explain that we are all sinners, all broken people, but all children of God and loved by God.”

Several members of the jury, which heard heart-rending tales during the prosecution case from almost four dozen victims and their relatives, leaned forward when they realized relatives were there to testify on behalf of the team trying to save the 37-year-old Frenchman from execution.

Earlier a second defense expert to diagnose Moussaoui as a paranoid schizophrenic testified that mental illness probably afflicted Moussaoui throughout his time as an al-Qaida operative.

Testimony on schizophrenia
Psychiatrist Michael First, who edits the diagnostic manual used by the psychiatric profession, described for jurors how Moussaoui’s mental illness apparently affected his ability to function within al-Qaida and his ability to prepare a defense for his death penalty trial.

First said Moussaoui’s schizophrenia manifests through paranoid delusions and through disorganized thought and speech.

He said this is consistent with earlier trial testimony that al-Qaida leaders considered Moussaoui paranoid and even “cuckoo,” and was unable to follow basic orders, like minimizing phone contact with others in al-Qaida. Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed said in a written summary given to jurors that he wanted to dismiss Moussaoui from the planned hijacking operations altogether.

The illness has also affected Moussaoui’s ability to defend himself at trial. Specifically, his delusion, fueled by a dream, that President Bush will free him from prison, has left him indifferent to what the jury thinks of him.

“It has allowed him to act in a way that is self-defeating and harmful,” First said, referencing the two times Moussaoui has taken the stand in self-defense and done his case more harm than good.

First is the second defense expert to conclude Moussaoui is a schizophrenic, but First was able to more clearly relate Moussaoui’s illness to his often bizarre and self-defeating actions.

Also on Wednesday, an expert on cults testified that Moussaoui’s isolation from family and social support networks left him vulnerable to recruitment by al-Qaida, the terrorist network.

Former cult member speaks
Psychologist Paul R. Martin, a former cult member who now runs a treatment center for cult victims in Albany, Ohio, said French Moroccans like Moussaoui generally feel alienated from Western society and his state of mind suffered even more when he left France in 1992 to study international business in London.

“He’s away from his family. He’s lonely. He’s complained about racism. He’s in a new country, and he doesn’t have any support group,” Martin said, describing Moussaoui’s embrace of radical Islam in the mid-1990s.

On cross examination, Martin acknowledged studies exist that find most al-Qaida terrorists come from stable families, middle-class backgrounds and have a college education.

Martin’s testimony was allowed by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, but at the insistence of prosecutors, the judge barred any suggestion from Martin or others that Moussaoui had been brainwashed by al-Qaida.

While not specific to Moussaoui, defense lawyers introduced information from a 2003 CIA report that stated al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan “used brainwashing techniques to cement loyalty” among recruits.

Moussaoui said as he was led out of the courtroom at a recess, “Moussaoui fly over the cuckoo’s nest,” the latest Hollywood-inspired interjection mocking those who question his sanity.

Much of the mental-health testimony has revolved around Moussaoui’s belief Bush will set him free. Prosecutors and defense lawyers differ on whether that belief is a schizophrenic delusion or a fundamentalist Muslim’s article of faith.

Defense hopes mental illness with sway jury
Moussaoui’s defense team contends his belief about Bush shows he has lost touch with reality. They hope evidence that Moussaoui suffers from mental illness will persuade a jury to spare his life.

Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country in the Sept. 11 attacks. The jury deciding his fate has already declared him eligible for the death penalty by determining that his actions caused at least one death that day.

Even though Moussaoui was in jail in Minnesota at the time of the attacks, the jury ruled that lies he told federal agents a month before the attacks kept authorities from identifying and stopping some of the hijackers.

They must decide whether to sentence him to death or to life in prison.

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