Closing Arguments Begin in Moussaoui Trial

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Madeleine Brand talks to Larry Abramson, reporting from the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., where lawyers in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial began to make their closing arguments Monday. The confessed al-Qaida conspirator faces life imprisonment or the death penalty.


From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY.

Both sides in the Zacarias Moussaoui sentencing trial made their closing arguments today. The prosecution wants Moussaoui executed for his role in the 9/11 terror attacks. The defense says he should get life in prison without the possibility of parole.

NPR's Larry Abramson is at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia and he joins us now.

And Larry, what did the prosecution tell the jury.


Well, you know, jurors face a very complicated jury form. And the prosecutor, David Raskin, tried to sort of walk them through the jury form, instructing them where to put an X so that they would vote for capital punishment. He said there's no magical formula in figuring out how to weigh the aggravating factors, which are the signs that they should vote for the death penalty versus the mitigating factors. But he said that you shouldn't be deceived. These mitigating factors that the defense has laid out, 23 different mitigating factors that would speak for life in prison, he said they were simply a bunch of nonsense.

He then explained to them that there's no question about the fact that the prosecution has proved the aggravating factors. For example, that people outside of the victims within the World Trade Center were targeted by the attack. He said there was no question that hundreds of other people could have died and did die. He said there was no question that they died in a heinous and cruel way and he reminded them of the scenes they saw of people jumping from the World Trade Center rather than being engulfed in flame. And finally, he said there's no question that Zacarias Moussaoui engaged in substantial planning; that's another aggravating factor. He said, Mark that one proved on your verdict sheet, and give it considerable weight.

He then went through some of the testimony that we heard from victims. Talked about people who were frozen in time by the loss of their loved ones. Felt that they couldn't go on any longer. And really recapitulated some of the most emotional testimony that we heard in the trial in order to re-impress upon the jury that all of these people's lives have been ruined, not just the people who died, but everyone who was left behind as well.

BRAND: And that's a lot to rebut by the defense. What did they say?

ABRAMSON: They gave also a very emotional speech about how important it was that this trial was happening at a time of Easter and Passover and at the eve of the Holocaust remembrance. He likened this trial to the Nuremberg trials and then Gerald Zerkin said there were only a handful of death penalties out of Nuremberg. You must remember that America is not a nation that insists on vengeance, even when it comes to some of the most horrible crimes.

He reminded them that Zacarias Moussaoui was not a successful al-Qaida operative. He said he was a veritable caricature of an Al-Qaida operative, that he really didn't achieve anything and that there was no evidence that he actually would have been able to complete what he said he wanted to do, which was fly a plane into the White House.

BRAND: And what happens now?

ABRAMSON: Well, now the jury is having lunch and then they will come back and they will get the very important instructions from the judge. As I mentioned, the jury form is very complicated. There are all of these different factors, there's a system for weighing them. There's a way in which they can consider the possibility that he may have mental illness. And there are ways in which they cannot consider those things. The judge has to explain all of this to them, and then they will go and deliberate and decide whether or not Moussaoui gets death or life in prison. And remember, there's no other possible sentence in this case, just death or life in prison.

BRAND: NPR's Larry Abramson speaking to us outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Larry, thank you very much.

ABRAMSON: Thank you.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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