The Legal View of the Moussaoui Sentencing Trial

Michael Greenberger, a law professor at the University of Maryland, talks with Steve Inskeep about the jury's decision in the Zacarias Moussaoui sentencing trial. The jury ruled Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

One person who's helped us make sense of this trial in recent days is Michael Greenberger. He's a law school professor at the University of Maryland, and he's on the phone. Good Morning.

Professor MICHAEL GREENBERGER (Professor of Law, University of Maryland): Good morning.

INSKEEP: I suppose it's worth mentioning that just a few weeks ago, it looked like the prosecution was very much in trouble in this case.

Prof. GREENBERGER: A week ago, before Moussaoui took the stand, the prosecution was heavily criticized for bumbling through its case. And the question was how could they even bring this case? They had so badly managed it. When Moussaoui took the stand, he gift wrapped that phase of the case, and absolutely filled in all the holes for the government, and made the decision by the jury yesterday virtually inevitable.

INSKEEP: We heard the word martyr in Laura Sullivan's report. Do you think that's what Moussaoui is after here, being a martyr?

Prof. GREENBERGER: Absolutely. He is, has brought this on himself. Without his testimony, this case could not have been made. He made it clear he was al-Qaida. He made it clear he was thrilled by the events of 9/11, that he reveled in the suffering of the victims, and he left no alternative but for the jury to find.

INSKEEP: Although, I have to ask, there are also questions about this man's mental state. He's made all these appalling claims. He said he was the guy who would have flown a fifth plane. Do you believe everything he said?

Prof. GREENBERGER: I have real questions about whether or not he's fully plugged into reality on all this. As you know, the evidence from the leaders of the 9/11 event that were introduced said that he was unreliable and not really part of this scheme. But his testimony, while he's been bizarre outside the jury's presence, his testimony that Monday when he took the stand was cool. And it was calculating. And it was convincing. And he is smart enough to know when he has to be onstage. And when he is onstage, he waves a red flag in front of the jury.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Now, as we head into this second phase, deciding whether he deserves the death penalty, how much will this phase turn on emotion?

Prof. GREENBERGER: It will be very emotional. As Laura Sullivan indicated, many of the victims will be taking the stand. And this is their one opportunity to go through what they probably view, as a cathartic event, of explaining what it meant to their loved ones, and how their loved ones suffered that day, and how they are suffering in the absence of their loved ones. It's going to be a very emotional and wrenching experience for the jury.

INSKEEP: And an effort as well to invoke an emotion on behalf of Zacarias Moussaoui.

Prof. GREENBERGER: Yes, the defense attorneys will try to do that. But I really believe now, by loosing this first phase of the trial--which was really a technical legal exercise for which the defense had well prepared itself, but was undercut by its own client--by losing that phase, it really is on a downhill slope now toward imposition of the death penalty.

INSKEEP: Now, Professor Greenberger, how will this trial, do you think, effect other terrorism prosecutions?

Prof. GREENBERGER: I really think this is an outlier. As one of your guests indicated, Moussaoui's behavior here is so bizarre and so unlike most people facing the death penalty who are cooperative with their lawyers and following their lawyers' guidance and advice. Moussaoui is acting so strangely and has so undercut his case, that I really don't think this has any precedential value at all. He really gift wrapped this case for the government, who was otherwise at sea in trying to bring this case home.

INSKEEP: Okay. Well, Professor Greenberger, thanks for being with us early this morning.

Prof. GREENBERGER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Michael Greenberger is a law school professor at the University of Maryland.

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