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Jury spares 9/11 plotter Moussaoui

Trial ends after wrenching images, heartbreaking testimony

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN

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Zacarias Moussaoui is the only person convicted in the U.S. of playing a role in the 9/11 attacks.

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui should spend the rest of his life in prison for his role in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, a federal jury determined Wednesday.

The jury of nine men and three women returned their verdict on the seventh day of deliberations after reliving the September 11 attacks through weeks of harrowing testimony and evidence.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema will formally sentence Moussaoui Thursday at 10 a.m.

Jurors were stone-faced as the lengthy verdict form was read in court. Spectators, including some 9/11 family members, fell silent and Moussaoui showed no immediate reaction.

"America, you lost," Moussaoui taunted, clapping his hands as he left the courtroom. "I won." (Watch reaction to Moussaoui's fate -- 1:51)

His celebration may not last long.

"Moussaoui will quickly go away and slowly die," Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana who served on the 9/11 commission, told CNN.

The jury had two choices -- death by injection or life in prison. The jury's rejection of the death penalty was viewed as a setback for the government.

"I certainly believe the verdict should have been death," said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who testified against Moussaoui during the trial's penalty phase. In his testimony he described the horrors he witnessed on September 11, 2001.

It was during the monthlong penalty phase that jurors heard the voices of the doomed office workers at New York's World Trade Center calling 911 for help and listened to the first public playing of the cockpit voice recorder of United Airlines Flight 93.

They watched videos of victims leaping to their deaths from the flaming twin towers. They were shown images of charred remains found in the rubble of the trade center and at the Pentagon in northern Virginia, about 10 miles from the Alexandria courthouse where the trial was held.

And they twice heard from an unrepentant Moussaoui, who said he is willing to kill Americans "any time, anywhere." (Full story)

First 9/11 conviction in U.S.

Moussaoui, 37, a Frenchman of Moroccan heritage, is the first person convicted in the United States for his role in the attacks. Nearly 3,000 people died when hijacked passenger jets crashed into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

Although he was behind bars on September 11, Moussaoui pleaded guilty last year to terrorism conspiracy.

From the White House, President Bush said the verdict "represents the end of this case but not an end to the fight against terror."

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said the trial gave voice to 9/11's victims.

"At times, this has been a maddening experience," he added. "The testimony of the defendant was deeply offensive, but through it all the victims have triumphed over the terrorist rants." (Audio slideshow: Listen to the reaction to the verdict)

He said he accepted the jury's verdict.

The purpose of the eight-week trial was solely to determine Moussaoui's punishment. Jurors first found that Moussaoui's lies to federal investigators a month before the attacks furthered al Qaeda's plot and directly resulted in at least some 9/11 deaths, making him eligible for execution. (Full story)

They then weighed factors such as the heinousness of the crime and its impact on the victims' families against Moussaoui's background and mental health.

Three jurors decided Moussaoui had only limited knowledge of the 9/11 plot and three described his role in the attacks as minor. A majority of the jurors found Moussaoui endured a brutal childhood.

Defense focuses on mental illness

Defense attorneys focused on Moussaoui's mental health, calling experts who diagnosed him as a delusional paranoid schizophrenic. The jury heard that Moussaoui's troubled family history includes two sisters and an abusive father who suffer from mental illness. (Full story)

But while some jurors found mental illness ran in Moussaoui's family, none found him to be so mentally ill it was a mitigating factor. (Read about these mitigating factors)

On the stand, Moussaoui said he knew in advance of the plan to hijack passenger jets and fly them into the World Trade Center. He said he was supposed to hijack a fifth plane and fly it into the White House with Richard Reid, known as the shoe bomber.

None of the jurors found that testimony unreliable.

Reid is serving a life sentence for attempting to set off a bomb hidden in his sneakers on a flight from Paris, France, to Miami, Florida, that was safely diverted to Boston, Massachusetts.

A statement from Reid, backed up by the FBI, contradicted Moussaoui's testimony that the two men were supposed to hijack a plane together. (Full story)

Defense attorney Edward MacMahon said the jury's difficulty in reaching a unanimous decision on many of the issues "displayed the deep divisions that mark the issue of capital punishment in our country."

He said the Moussaoui trial marked the only case he could find in which victims' relatives testified for the defense.

Moussaoui shows no remorse

On the witness stand, Moussaoui displayed a complete lack of remorse for the 9/11 deaths, saying he was sorry only that the attacks weren't more lethal.

"I just wish it could have gone on the 12th, the 13th, the 14th, the 15th, the 16th, the 17th. We can go on and on," Moussaoui said. "Like they say, no pain, no gain."

His attorneys asked the jury not to give him the death penalty and make him an al Qaeda martyr.

During the trial, about 30 family members of 9/11 victims, along with attack survivors and emergency responders, described how their lives have been changed. One after the other, widows and widowers, fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and friends shared heart-wrenching stories of loss.

Perhaps the trial's most dramatic moment came when prosecutors played the cockpit voice recorder from United Flight 93. It made clear passengers' efforts to retake control of the aircraft before the hijackers crashed it outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (Full story)

September 11 family members rotated through the main courtroom observing the trial in six seats reserved for them three rows behind Moussaoui.

Their reaction was mixed.

"I think he deserved the death penalty, and I'm sorry he didn't get it," said 9/11 family member Margaret Pothier.

"I know why the jury made the decision that they did, but I believe in an eye for an eye, " said Jon Fisher, whose father died on 9/11. "Heck with lethal injection. Here's to hoping someone in jail gets to him."

"He's going to be sitting in prison, that's where he belongs," said Christie Coombs, whose husband, Jeff, was killed on 9/11. "That means he is not going to die for killing Americans. He didn't have a hand in killing Americans."

CNN's Kelli Arena contributed to this report.

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