Moussaoui Sentencing Trial Winds Down
NEAL CONAN, host:
Earlier today, lawyers in the trial of 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui presented their closing arguments. The judge gave the jury their instructions and the jurors then retired to deliberate. They must decide whether to sentence Moussaoui to death or to life in prison.
If you have questions about the case, give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, email us -- email@example.com.
Washington Post Reporter Jerry Markon was in the courtroom today. He's been following the Moussaoui case. He joins us now from the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Jerry, nice to have you back on the program.
Mr. JERRY MARKON (Reporter, Washington Post): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: What did the jury hear today from the prosecution first?
Mr. MARKON: The jury heard a lot of the same sorts of emotion, I would say, that animated the trial all along. The prosecutors played some of the videos that they played during the second part of the sentencing trial showing the, you know, bodies, people jumping off the World Trade Center and the last pictures of all the victims who'd, you know, family members of the dead who testified in the courts and, you know, sobbed from the stand as they issued sort of a clarion call, for lack of a better term, to the jurors to do what they considered justice for 9/11.
They were very clear to say that they do not consider this vengeance. They called it, at one point one prosecutor called it righteous justice. And they had some very harsh words for Mr. Moussaoui, obviously, which we can get into. But they basically said that there's no other possible sentence other than death. At one point one of the prosecutors said, I believe the words were, there is no place on this good earth for Zacarias Moussaoui.
CONAN: And at one point Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the case, commended both sides but especially the defense for the burden of having to represent somebody who rejected them at every turn. “There has never been a defendant as difficult as this one,” she said, “who did everything he could to undermine your efforts.”
Did the defendant do anything to undermine his lawyers today?
Mr. MARKON: Yes, I wasn't actually in court when he said that but that is my understanding. He, you know, Moussaoui today was sort of his usual, you know, cornucopia of emotions, I mean, at various points.
You know, and maybe in subtle ways he did but really nothing more than when he went on the stand. He, you know, when the prosecutors were showing, as I said, the film of the, you know, the bodies jumping, he was smiling.
At other points, when they -- oh, another point, one of the prosecutors turned to him and, you know, sort of whirled around and, you know, like prosecutors tend to do, you know, this man, Zacarias Moussaoui, you know, loved every minute, he said, of the suffering that, you know, you saw in this courtroom.
And at that moment, I looked over at Moussaoui and he was smiling rather broadly, I have to say.
But, you know, it's all a matter of context. I mean, these jurors have already seen, actually, as you probably know, Mr. Moussaoui take the stand twice and both times, you know, not only voice no regret for his role in the attacks but say he would do it again and do it again tomorrow and do it again today and talk about how he wanted to kill every American, presumably including the jury.
So I think the question of the damage Mr. Moussaoui is trying to do to his defense is sort of a relative concept.
CONAN: And did the defense, did they continue their argument that the, questioning his mental capacity?
Mr. MARKON: Yeah. Yeah, they did. I mean, I wouldn't say that was the focus of their closing. I mean, they certainly, you know, talked about it. But they sort of issued their own challenge to the jury. I mean, the defense basically said, I mean, they admitted flat out that the guy is despicable. I mean, they use the words. I mean, it's, you know, his, I think they even used the term, you know, his comments during his testimony when they were callous and remorseless and, you know, it's easy, I think one of the lawyers said it's easy to despise Mr. Moussaoui.
And they basically said to the jury, you know, the easy answer here would be death, which I think there's a certain logic to that. And they said that the, you know, the more challenging thing to do would be to give him life.
I mean, that's, you know, it's simplistic to just, you know, it's sort of vengeance seeking, you know, they said and implied at various times to kill him and, you know, you should have the courage. They actually used that term to sentence him to life in prison. And, you know, and yes, they did talk about his mental state. But, you know, it wasn't really so much the focus.
I will say this, the prosecutors may have spent more time on mental state today than the defense in seeking to knock down the argument that he is mentally ill.
CONAN: We're talking with Jerry Markon, the federal court reporter for the Washington Post, about the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Ishmael, Ishmael calling us from Cameron Park in California.
ISHMAEL (Caller): Neal, how are you doing?
ISHMAEL: Listen, guys, I had a quick question. I'm kind of curious. It seems, particularly when Moussaoui took the stand, a lot of the things that he was saying, you know, particularly offensive comments, I guess, to the family members of the 9/11 victims, I'm curious if there's anything, some sort of leverage that Moussaoui might have, something that, you know, the majority of the public does not know, something that he's able to, I guess, make his own defense in such a very, very wild sense, again, almost as if he has some sort of leverage, some card to play that is just not being spoken about, particularly with respect to his comments about having this dream of the president, you know, releasing him when the term is over.
I guess I'll take my comments off the air.
CONAN: Okay, Ishmael. Thanks for the call.
ISHMAEL: Thanks. Bye bye.
Mr. MARKON: Shall I take a shot at that?
CONAN: Yes, go ahead, please.
Mr. MARKON: You know, I appreciate the caller and the question, but I'm really not sure what that would be. You know, I got the sense, as everybody who I think, you know, most of the people who were in the courtroom did, was that Mr. Moussaoui said these things about the family members. I think what the caller was referring to was he called them disgusting, the family members who had, you know, sobbed in court. And he said that they were parading their grief, you know, before the public, you know, unnecessarily.
It seemed like he really believed it. I mean, it seems like he really believed everything that he said because there was, you know, he had plenty of other opportunities to elaborate.
I mean, just as a follow up to the same thing, I mean, at one point, you know, the prosecutor was cross-examining him and he said, you know, do you remember the guy, we talked about a guy who had talked about escaping, testified about, you know, escaping his burning office at the Pentagon, you know, crawling on his hands and knees while his colleagues were dying around him and got out. A guy testified. And what did you think of him?
And Moussaoui says, you know, my only regret was that he didn't die. I mean, so all of his comments sort of built upon each other. I don't really know what he would know that others don't. I mean, he, you know, he clearly was not a high-level member of al-Qaida. It doesn't seem like his knowledge really extended beyond what his own mission may have been. And he's been in jail for the last five years. So I'm not really sure what else that would be.
CONAN: And the government in its case had to stipulate that they did not believe Moussaoui when he said that he and the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, were supposed to fly another plane in the attack that day.
Mr. MARKON: Well, I mean, yes, they stipulated, which means it's presented to the jury as fact, that there was no evidence that that was true. But they, you know, when the prosecutors were cross-examining Mr. Moussaoui, I mean, I think they tried to insulate themselves from that, the defense taking that argument, because they basically got Moussaoui to say that, yes, Richard Reid was to be part of his crew, but no, Richard Reid did not know about that.
Mr. MARKON: In other words, Moussaoui said, you know, yeah, they told me to do it but they told me not to tell him.
CONAN: Were there any instructions from the judge today that are unusual in any way?
Mr. MARKON: To be honest, I was not in court for that. My colleague at the Post, Tim Dwyer, was. But no, I did not hear of any that were particularly unusual.
In fact, the most compelling part of the instructions, from my understanding, was what you already referred to was when the jury left and the judge, as you said, praised both sides, especially the defense lawyers, for the job they did.
And my understanding also is that Mr. Moussaoui was clapping as he left the courtroom after that, so, right after Judge Brinkema called him the most difficult defendant she'd ever seen.
CONAN: And I don't think anybody's going to argue with her about that.
Mr. MARKON: Probably not. Probably not.
CONAN: As far as procedure goes from here, this is handled just the way any other case is handled, the jury will come back with a verdict?
Mr. MARKON: Yeah. The only difference is really in terms of how it handles with the media because there's such a huge media contingent here. And this is very unusual. There will be a one-hour notice when the jury has reached a verdict. And it will go out over the court's web site, emailed to every journalist who subscribed, myself and probably hundreds of others. And everybody who wants to hear the verdict will descend upon the courthouse.
And as happened in the first phase of the trial, the court spokesperson will be reading the verdict from a microphone in front of the courthouse at the same time it's being read in the courthouse, in the courtroom, which is quite unusual.
But other than that, it's the same as any trial. If the jury has questions, they, you know, they notify the judge in writing and the judge calls them in and they answer the question.
And other than that, we go until there's a verdict.
CONAN: Jerry Markon, thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. MARKON: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Jerry Markon is the federal court reporter for the Washington Post and joined us today from the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, where a jury is now deliberating on the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui.