Defense to Raise Moussaoui's Upbringing

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Zacarias Moussaoui

Zacarias Moussaoui, in an undated law enforcement photo. Getty Images hide caption

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Attorneys for Zacarias Moussaoui plan to provide evidence of a troubled childhood in order to save their client from a possible death sentence. Moussaoui pleaded guilty to complicity in the Sept. 11 plot last year and faces a sentencing trial that begins next month.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Attorneys for admitted terrorist, Zacarias Moussaoui, plan to provide evidence of a troubled childhood in order to save their client from a possible death sentence. Expert witnesses are expected to say that a tough upbringing helped drive Moussaoui into the arms of radical Muslims who preached at London mosques in the 1990s. NPR's Larry Abramson reports.


Moussaoui pleaded guilty to complicity in the 9/11 plot last year, but he still faces a sentencing trial that begins next month. In a filing to the court yesterday, Moussaoui's attorneys indicated they will call a series of experts. In the first phase, his attorney plan to argue Moussaoui could not have stopped the 9/11 attacks, even if he had told the FBI what he knew. The defense plans to present testimony from a former FBI agent. The goal is, apparently, to show that the FBI and other agencies made so many mistakes Moussaoui's knowledge of the plot would not have helped them stop 9/11. Moussaoui has claimed he was destined to take part in a second wave of attacks.

In the second part of this proceeding to determine the actual penalty, other experts will describe Moussaoui's upbringing. One social worker is said to detail his stressful birth to an undernourished mother who, according to the defense, was abused by her violent and alcoholic husband. The expert will also go into the difficulties the family faced when they moved from their native Morocco to France. The expert will say that Moussaoui moved to London as a young man, where, according to the filing, Zacarias began to deteriorate, and he eventually was exposed to radical Muslim teachings. Another expert will say that Moussaoui suffers from what the filing calls, a major thought disorder, most likely schizophrenia.

All these experts have had to rely on observations of Moussaoui and his court appearances. Security around the defendant is so tight he's not allowed to be interviewed. The goal is to persuade the jury to spare Moussaoui's life. Jury selection is set to begin February sixth.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

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