Defense lawyers closed their case for sparing Zacarias Moussaoui’s life Thursday after the government admitted it had no evidence that he and would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid were to have joined in a hijacking as part of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Prosecutors opened their rebuttal with testimony from mental health expert Raymond Patterson, who has examined Moussaoui and disputes claims of doctors summoned by the defense that the terrorist conspirator is schizophrenic.
In its last arguments, the defense introduced a statement that was agreed to by the government and presented to the jury considering whether Moussaoui should be executed or imprisoned for life. It said there was no information indicating al-Qaida had instructed Reid to work with Moussaoui on a terrorist operation.
Moussaoui had stunned his trial on March 27 by claiming for the first time that he had intended to participate in the terrorist attacks before his arrest a month earlier, and that Reid was to have been one of his accomplices.
His lawyers hoped the statement would help undercut that claim and bolster their argument that their client is lying about his role in the attacks to inflate his place in history or achieve martyrdom through execution.
Earlier, defense lawyers tried to bring Reid to court from the federal prison in Colorado, where he is serving a life sentence for attempting to detonate a shoe bomb on a trans-Atlantic flight in late 2001.
FBI analysis on Reid
That bid was thwarted. But defense attorneys were able to obtain from the government its agreement on the statement about Reid instead.
“No information is available to indicate that Richard Reid had pre-knowledge of the Sept. 11 operation or was instructed by al-Qaida leaders to conduct an operation in coordination with Moussaoui,” the statement said.
The statement also said Reid had named Moussaoui as the beneficiary in his will and two FBI analysts concluded that was an unlikely decision for him to make if they were going to be on a joint suicide mission.
The statement also said that the FBI has learned from al-Qaida sources that Reid had been ordered to undertake shoe-bombing attacks in late 2001 with another operative, Saajid Badat, who pulled out of the operation and has never been heard from again.
The two FBI analysts also said that it was unlikely Reid was part of a Sept. 11 plot with Moussaoui because he spent the period from May to September 2001 traveling abroad, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey and Amsterdam and The Hague in the Netherlands.
By contrast, the statement said, all members of the Sept. 11 operation were in the U.S. by July 2001.
More testimony from families
The courtroom development followed a second round of testimony from families of Sept. 11, 2001, victims, who were brought forward by the lawyers trying to spare Moussaoui’s life. These witnesses pressed their point that they don’t seek revenge for their loss.
Testimony from about a dozen relatives was meant to counter the emotional punch of nearly four dozen witnesses who gave heartbreaking testimony for prosecutors about the impact of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Among the defense witnesses Thursday was Andrea LeBlanc of New Hampshire, who lost her husband Robert, a retired geography professor, on the United Airlines plane that struck the second of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
She recalled watching TV when that plane hit, finding out hours later her husband was on it, and the pain of having to tell her kids. “To their credit, they’re all their father’s children,” said LeBlanc, an opponent of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “There’s never angry words, no recrimination or vengeance-seeking.”
Court rules prohibited witnesses on either side from opining on the choice jurors will face when deliberations begin next week — whether Moussaoui should get the death penalty or life in prison.
Devoted to reconciliation
But the defense witnesses left the unmistakable message that they opposed execution for Moussaoui, as they talked about how they have devoted their lives to reconciliation rather than vengeance.
Alice Hoglan, the mother of a public relations man, Mark Bingham, who died on United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, said she had tried since Sept. 11 to embody the values of her son, “who embraced everyone.”
Bingham was flying to San Francisco that day for the wedding of a fraternity brother, an Egyptian Muslim.
His mother said that she and other relatives of Flight 93 victims now sponsor athletic events and hope to create a scholarship in Bingham’s name.
Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country in the 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 on Sept. 11.
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.
Moussaoui has pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings, but not on Sept. 11.