A federal jury found al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui eligible Monday to be executed, deciding that his lies to FBI agents led directly to at least one death in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The only person to face charges in this country in the nation’s worst terrorist assault, Moussaoui now faces a second phase of his sentencing trial to determine if he actually will be put to death. That phase is to begin Thursday morning.
Moussaoui sat in his chair and prayed silently as the verdict was read. He was asked to stand but refused.
“You’ll never get my blood, God curse you all,” he said afterward.
The nine men and three women of the jury will hear testimony on whether the 37-year-old Frenchman, who was in jail at the time of the attack, deserves to be executed for his role.
The testimony will include families of 9/11 victims who will describe the human impact of the al-Qaida mission that flew four jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
Defense will argue schizophrenia
Court-appointed defense lawyers, whom Moussaoui has tried to reject, will summon experts to suggest he is schizophrenic after an impoverished childhood during which he faced racism in France over his Moroccan ancestry.
“By this verdict, the jury has found that death is a possible sentence in this case,” court spokesman Ed Adams said.
On the key question before the jurors, they answered yes on whether at least one victim died Sept. 11 as a direct result of Moussaoui’s actions.
Had the jury voted against his eligibility for the death penalty, Moussaoui would have been sentenced to life in prison.
The jury began weighing Moussaoui’s fate last Wednesday. During its deliberations, jurors asked only one question, seeking a definition of “weapon of mass destruction.” One of the three convictions for which Moussaoui could be executed is conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
The jurors were told that a plane used as a missile — the tactic employed on Sept. 11 — qualifies as a weapon of mass destruction.
Moussaoui pleaded guilty last April to conspiring with al-Qaida to hijack aircraft and other crimes. At the time, he denied being part of the 9/11 plot, saying he was being trained for a separate attack, but he changed his story when he took the stand and claimed he was to have flown a hijacked airliner into the White House that day.
Moussaoui was in jail at the time of the attacks, but prosecutors argue federal agents would have been able to thwart or at least minimize the attacks if he had revealed his al-Qaida membership and his terrorist plans when he was arrested and interrogated by federal agents.
9/11 victims’ relative grateful
Hamilton Peterson, whose father Donald and stepmother Jean died on Flight 93 when it crashed in Pennsylvania, was outside the courtroom.
“I am grateful to the jury for having made that decision and I feel confident in light of Moussaoui’s own testimony that it is the right decision and look forward to the next phase of the case and the final determination of execution,” Peterson said.
The court proceeding took just nine minutes.
Brinkema accepted the verdict from the forewoman and read it to the court. The clerk asked the defendant to rise just before she read it. Moussaoui remained seated, but his lawyer rose.
The forewoman said the jury was unanimous on all four aspects of each of the three counts against Moussaoui. Those counts were conspiracy to commit international terrorism, to destroy aircraft and to use weapons of mass destruction.
On each count, the jurors found the defendant was 18 or older at the time of the offense, intentionally lied to federal agents on Aug. 16-18, 2001, and did so “contemplating the life of a person would be taken or intending that lethal force would be used.” Further, they determined at least one person died Sept. 11 as a direct result of the lies.
The judge asked the jurors if their verdicts were all unanimous, and all nodded affirmatively.