Lawyers Argue to Spare Moussaoui's Life
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
After hearing emotional and graphic testimony this week describing the attacks on 9/11, jurors heard from the defense today in the sentencing phase of 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. The same jury already decided that Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty. His defense team is now trying to convince jurors that he does not deserve to die.
Joining us now is Jerry Markon, federal court reporter for The Washington Post. He has been covering the trial and he joins us now by phone from the Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.
Jerry, thanks so much for joining us.
Mr. JERRY MARKON (The Washington Post): Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Now, Moussaoui took the stand again today. What happened?
Mr. MARKON: Well, as the last time he testified he probably did not help his own case, to put it mildly. He made a lot of comments, which triggered some strong reactions in the courtroom again. Among other things, he said he was asked by his own lawyers what he thought of the 9/11 family members who had come into court and sobbed and given such emotional testimony, and he said he thought they were “disgusting.”
He said that it was disgusting that somebody would come into court and cry about the death of somebody else. He called Timothy McVeigh, the, you know, famous Oklahoma City bomber “the greatest American.” In a rapid-fire exchange with the prosecutors who were cross-examining him, he said that, the prosecutor asked at one point, you know, you were proud that you accepted a suicide mission from Osama bin Laden, weren't you? And he says, you know, it was my pleasure. You would do it again tomorrow, the prosecutor says, and Moussaoui smiles and says, no, I would do it again today.
And at another point, he was asked about a survivor of the Pentagon attack from 9/11, a man who gripped a core opening of the day as he described how he crawled, you know, on the floor of his office to escape, you know, the burning Pentagon. And Moussaoui was asked what he thought of that testimony and he said, you know, it was pathetic. I was regretful that he didn't die.
So that gives you a flavor of what's going on.
MARTIN: The defense lawyers had to have some expectation, given his prior outbursts in court, that this would be the tenor of his remarks. What is their strategy for putting him on the stand?
Ms. MARKON: Well, sure they did, but they have no choice. The defendant has an absolute constitutional right in the United States to testify, and, you know, I've reported many times, and I know that Mr. Moussaoui's, and they came out today, I mean, Mr. Moussaoui's lawyers didn't want him to testify, but it's really not their decision. He was determined to testify, and, you know, it's unclear what he was trying to accomplish today.
He did say at other points, I'll tell you, very definitively that he does not want to be executed, that he wants, seems to, you know, want the jurors to sentence him to life in prison. And he affirmed that, he says anyway, that he was telling the truth when he testified earlier that he was supposed to fly a fifth airplane into the White House on September 11th, and he said that he feels if he tells the truth the jury will spare his life.
So, go figure.
MARTIN: Did you detect any reaction from the jurors?
Mr. MARKON: No, the jury's been pretty, pretty good at being stoic. In fact, even during the real emotional 9/11 testimony they were, a few of them were blinking back tears, but barely. I mean there was no sobbing or anything. Now that they seem to be, some were looking directly at him today, some were looking down, some were looking away. There was really no direct reaction.
One family member of the 9/11 victims in the row in front of me did start to cry and was comforted by a, you know, member of the prosecution team. But, you know, no, there wasn't, it's, quite frankly, reporters and others who were sitting in the courtroom, frantically trying to take notes, sort of had their mouths hanging open, when, you know, just everything he said you were just sort of like, what's coming next. And then there was something next.
MARTIN: Was there any other testimony that the jury heard today?
Mr. MARKON: Very little. There was just a guy before him, a corrections expert called to sort of talk about conditions in prison, when someone is sentenced to life in prison and is a very high security risk like Moussaoui is. And he basically said that, you know, when people go to prison for life, you know, they're just in hell, and they rot away. And they, you know, have no contact with the outside world if they're a high security deal like Moussaoui. And the point of that, I think, was to convince the jurors that life in prison would be a serious punishment as well.
MARTIN: Just briefly, Jerry, because we're almost out of time here, but if the jury does not decide to sentence Moussaoui to die, what other options are on the table?
Mr. MARKON: Automatic life in prison. It's life or death, that's it. No other options.
MARTIN: Thank you so much.
Jerry Markon, federal court reporter for The Washington Post. He's been covering the trial, and he joined us by phone from the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.
Mr. MARKON: Thank you.
MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
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