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Jury Finds Moussaoui Eligible for Execution

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    Jury Finds Moussaoui Eligible for Execution By Neil A. Lewis and John O Neil The New York Times Monday 03 April 2006
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2006
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      Jury Finds Moussaoui Eligible for Execution
      By Neil A. Lewis and John O'Neil
      The New York Times
      Monday 03 April 2006
      http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/040306R.shtml


      Alexandria, Va. - A federal jury found today that Zacarias
      Moussaoui was responsible for at least some of the deaths that
      occurred in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, meaning that he
      could be subject to the death penalty.

      In concluding unanimously today that the defendant lied to federal
      agents after his arrest in August 2001, that he did so contemplating
      that human life would be taken, and that at least one victim of the
      Sept. 11 attacks died as a direct result of his deception, the jurors
      said death should at least be considered as the appropriate punishment.

      The jury of nine men and three women now move into the next phase
      of the sentencing trial, in which they will decide whether he should
      actually be executed by lethal injection at the federal prison in
      Terre Haute, Ind. Before reaching that decision, the jurors will hear
      evidence of factors both favorable and unfavorable to the defendant.
      Relatives of Sept. 11 victims will be among those testifying.

      The jurors reported their verdict to Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of
      United States District Court.

      The case against Mr. Moussaoui began, in a sense, even before the
      Sept. 11 attacks, and its many twists and turns have reflected the
      nation's struggle to punish those involved. Mr. Moussaoui, who pleaded
      guilty earlier to six conspiracy charges (three of which exposed him
      to the death penalty), is the only person to be charged in a United
      States courtroom in connection with the plot.

      The trial, whose sole purpose was to determine whether he would be
      sentenced to death or life in prison, also gave a newly detailed and
      vivid picture of the missed opportunities that followed his arrest
      three weeks before the attacks.

      During its long course, the proceedings were repeatedly thrown
      into turmoil by Mr. Moussaoui's outbursts and changes of heart, and
      were almost derailed at the end by a blunder on the part of the
      government.

      The surprises went both ways up until the very end of the
      sometimes raucous three-week trial. The penalty hearings that were the
      case's final phase were brought to a halt in March when prosecutors
      disclosed that a government lawyer had improperly coached several
      aviation officials who were to be key witnesses, leading the judge to
      consider a mistrial. The lawyer, Carla J. Martin, was told by Judge
      Brinkema that she could face criminal charges.

      And then Mr. Moussaoui appeared to throw away any advantage his
      court-appointed lawyers had won by taking the stand against their
      advice and asserting that he had in fact been a member of the 9-11
      plotters and had been assigned to fly a plane into the White House.

      In the trial, prosecutors asserted, under what they admitted was a
      novel argument, that Mr. Moussaoui deserved to be executed because
      when he was arrested on Aug. 16 on immigration violations, he lied to
      investigators about his knowledge of Qaeda plans to fly planes into
      buildings. Had Mr. Moussaoui told the truth, the prosecutors said, the
      Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Aviation
      Administration would have taken quick action to thwart the plot.

      Defense lawyers pressed the idea that any information Mr.
      Moussaoui may have provided would have become part of the sea of
      unchecked leads in the days before the attacks. They also introduced
      evidence, much of it never previously made public, that showed that
      captured Al Qaeda leaders who oversaw the 9-11 plot described him as a
      troublesome and peripheral figure.

      Government officials originally described Mr. Moussaoui as the
      "20th hijacker," and said that but for his arrest he would have been
      aboard one of the planes that were crashed on Sept. 11. After
      investigations pointed to another captured Al Qaeda member as playing
      that role, they said that Mr. Moussaoui had been training for a later
      attack.

      But Mr. Moussaoui testified that he had been assigned, along with
      Ralph Reid, the man arrested for trying to blow up a bomb in his shoe
      on a trans-Atlantic flight after Sept. 11, to fly a fifth plane that day.

      Mr. Moussaoui, a 37-year-old French-born Arab of Moroccan descent,
      was arrested on Aug. 17, 2001, after instructors at a flight school in
      Minnesota became suspicious when he asked to be trained in flying a
      Boeing 747 although he did not yet have a pilot's license. Mr.
      Moussaoui had taken flying lessons earlier that year in Oklahoma but
      had not qualified for a license.

      While the failure of F.B.I. higher-ups to act on requests to
      investigate Mr. Moussaoui further had been disclosed years ago, never
      had the missteps been laid out quite so vividly by some of the agents
      directly involved.

      One witness, Harry Samit, an F.B.I. agent in Minnesota who
      questioned Mr. Moussaoui at his arrest, testified for the prosecution
      that Mr. Moussaoui's evasions had sent investigators on "wild goose
      chases" and that a truthful statement by him would have generated
      important leads.

      But on cross-examination, Mr. Samit acknowledged that after the
      attacks he had written strongly worded reports saying his superiors
      had improperly blocked his efforts to investigate Mr. Moussaoui. He
      added that he had been convinced that Mr. Moussaoui was a terrorist
      involved in an imminent hijacking plot.

      He offered a devastating comment from a supervisor who said
      pressing too hard to obtain a warrant for Mr. Moussaoui would hurt his
      career. Mr. Samit also wrote that his superiors did not act because
      they were guilty of "criminal negligence" and they were gambling that
      Mr. Moussaoui had little to offer. The lost wager, Mr. Samit said, was
      paid in many lives.

      Mr. Samit was followed to the witness stand by Michael Rolince, a
      retired F.B.I. counterterrorism supervisor. He revealed on
      cross-examination that he had never seen a document sent by Mr. Samit
      to agency headquarters the day after Mr. Moussaoui's arrest, detailing
      the many suspicions about his intentions.

      After the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Moussaoui was moved to New York
      and held as a material witness. In Decemer 2001, he was charged in
      Alexandria, Va., with six federal counts of conspiracy.

      In January 2002, Mr. Moussaoui refused to enter a plea in the
      case, calling the courts invalid. Judge Brinkema entered a not guilty
      plea on his behalf.

      A lengthy struggle then began between Mr. Moussaoui and the
      lawyers Judge Brinkema had appointed on his behalf. In June, after an
      evaluation of his mental health, the judge allowed Mr. Moussaoui to
      represent himself, but told the lawyers to continue in the case as
      back-up counsel.

      That July, prosecutors amended the charges against him and
      announced that they would seek the death penalty. Mr. Moussaoui said
      he wished to plead guilty, but after a hearing Judge Brinkema refused
      to accept a guilty plea, saying she was not convinced that Mr.
      Moussaoui understood the charges and consequences, and he later
      withdrew the plea.

      During 2003, another lengthy legal battle began after prosecutors
      announced that they would not give Mr. Moussaoui access to detained Al
      Qaeda leaders to question their statements. Judge Brinkema barred the
      government from seeking the death penalty, but her decision was
      overturned the next year by an appeals court.

      Late in 2003, the judge also stripped Mr. Moussaoui of his right
      to defend himself, citing his continual courtroom outbursts and
      inflammatory language in his legal filings.

      In April 2005, after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal
      by Mr. Moussaoui's lawyers of the ruling allowing the government to
      seek the death penalty, he entered his guilty plea.

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