MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
A federal jury has found the confessed terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty. Earlier, Moussaoui had pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit terrorist acts. At his sentencing trial, he testified that he had expected to be part of the 9/11 plot by flying a plane into the White House before he was detained on immigration violations in August of 2001.
NPR's Laura Sullivan was in the courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia for the verdict today and joins us from outside the courthouse. Laura, this was the first phase of the sentencing trial. What did the jury have to decide today?
LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:
Well, the jury had to decide whether Moussaoui's lies to investigators three weeks before the attacks, when he was picked up, led to the death of at least one person. And there were three counts of this, there was conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, destroy an aircraft and use a plane as a weapon of mass destruction. On all three counts the jury found him eligible for death, saying that people died because he lied to federal agents.
It's a huge victory for the government that had a lot struggles in this case.
BLOCK: What was the reaction to this verdict in the courtroom today?
SULLIVAN: Well, first, let me tell you what happened before Moussaoui even entered the courtroom. We were all waiting in the courtroom for the proceedings to begin, and we heard this loud hollering coming from the door where Moussaoui usually comes out with the marshals. And it went on and on for about five minutes, and finally, the marshals were all whispering to each other and fussing with the buttons in their ears, and all five of them went back, and then there was silence, and then Moussaoui came out of this door, and he was rather subdued. So at that point, when he finally came out, he looked like he was sitting in the chair chanting and praying.
When the verdict was read, the court said, will you please rise. He refused to stand up, and the courtroom was just silent. The decision was read. It was unanimous by the jury, and he never even looked up. He just kept chanting. It looked like he was praying through the whole time, and then, at one point he turned around and looked at the clock behind him.
When it was over and the jury had left, Moussaoui stood up and yelled you will never get my blood. God curse you all. And at that point, several of the family members hugged prosecutors on their way out. They looked very pleased. The defense, obviously, looked a little bit deflated.
BLOCK: Well, now, the jury has to enter a Phase II of this sentencing trial. What is before them in that phase?
SULLIVAN: The jury now has to decide if Moussaoui deserves the death penalty. He's legally eligible for it, and so now it's whether or not he should get it. And the prosecution has as many as 40 victims' families on the list ready to testify. It's unclear if they will actually call that many. The defense attorneys have said in motions that they intend to bring evidence about Moussaoui's mental health, even about a rough childhood, his absentee father, alcoholism, that they want to show a picture of a disaffected youth that was welcomed into the arms of al-Qaeda and just really persuaded at some of the mosques there. And they will also, the defense will also likely focus on the issue of whether or not the jury should make Moussaoui a martyr.
BLOCK: And that phase starts on Thursday?
SULLIVAN: The second phase is set to start on Thursday. Before then, there's going to be a lot of, the judge has called a lot of hearings to decide how much mental health testimony is going to be able to come in, and there's also a secret document out there that has been kept under seal about Moussaoui's mental state, that now the defense and the prosecutors will get to see, and that also will probably play a big part in this second phase of the trial.
BLOCK: And, again, the jury had to be unanimous to find him eligible for the death penalty today. They also have to be unanimous if they want to vote for death in that second phase.
SULLIVAN: Exactly. They need to be all on the same page.
BLOCK: NPR's Laura Sullivan at the Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Thanks very much.
SULLIVAN: Thank you.
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