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Moussaoui jury reaches verdict

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN

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Zacarias Moussaoui is the only person to stand trial in the U.S. in connection with the 9/11 attacks.

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- The jury in the Zacarias Moussaoui case has reached a verdict on the question of whether the al Qaeda operative should be eligible for the death penalty, court officials said Monday.

The jurors, who had been deliberating since late Wednesday, made the announcement shortly before 3 p.m.

The decision is to be announced by 4 p.m.

The nine men and three women reached their verdict on the fourth day of deliberations.

The panel is deciding only whether Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty.

To find that he is, the jury must unanimously agree that prosecutors proved Moussaoui intentionally lied to federal agents who interrogated him in August 2001, that he lied with lethal intent, and that his lies directly resulted in at least one death in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"He concealed the valuable information that he had about the impending attacks," prosecutor David Raskin said last week, summarizing the government's case.

"If the defendant hadn't lied," he said, the government could have used Moussaoui's leads "to prevent the attacks or at least some part of the attacks."

Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty last year to six terrorism conspiracy charges stemming from the plot to hijack planes and crash them into prominent buildings.

It wasn't until he testified last week that Moussaoui claimed advanced knowledge of the September 11 plot or a role in it, a reversal of his previous statements.

Moussaoui told jurors that he was aware the twin towers of the World Trade Center were on a suicide hijacking target list, and that he was training to crash a jetliner into the White House.

The government produced no evidence of a fifth plane or hijacking team during the trial.

"Why? Because it's just not true," said defense attorney Edward MacMahon in his closing argument. He said his client's story was "simply not worthy of belief."

Three of the charges Moussaoui pleaded guilty to exposed him to the death penalty -- the conspiracies to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, to destroy aircraft, and to use weapons of mass destruction.

In its first note to the court, the jury asked U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema to define what was meant by "weapons of mass destruction."

For purposes of this case, WMD means "using airplanes as missiles or bombs," the judge said.

If determining the government has met its burden of proof, the 12-person jury must be unanimous.

To proceed to the next phase of the trial, when the jury would decide whether to actually impose the death penalty after hearing more testimony and evidence, the jury must answer "yes" to all questions underneath any one of the death-eligible counts on a verdict form.

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