Moussaoui Evades Death, Receives Life in Prison

Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole on Wednesday for his role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"America, you lost. I won," Moussaoui said, clapping his hands as he was led out of the courtroom after the verdict was read.

Reading the jurors' decision outside the Alexandria, Va., courthouse, Edward Adams, the court's public information officer, said the verdict only indicated that the jurors were "not unanimous in favor of a sentence of death."

Moussaoui was convicted of several terrorism-related counts last year, including conspiring with Al Qaeda to commit acts of terrorism and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

• Click here for Moussaoui's case history (FindLaw pdf).

"The end of this trial represents the end of this case, but not an end to the fight against terror," President Bush said after the decision was announced. The Bush administration and U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema often butted heads over Moussaoui's access to witnesses and documents.

Bush did not indicate any disappointment with the verdict. "We have had many victories, yet there is much left to do, and I will not relent in this struggle for the freedom and security of the American people," he said.

Though the families of the Sept. 11 victims have been divided over whether Moussaoui deserved life or death, reactions outside the courthouse were largely ones of relief.

"He will be in confinement, he will not be released and we can all take pleasure or gratitude in that. He's a bad man," said Rosemary Dillard, who lost her husband on Sept. 11. "We showed the world what we will do to terrorists and that we will treat them with respect, no matter how much they disrespect us and that means an awful lot, that makes us the bigger and better person and society."

"He's going to be in jail for the rest of his life, which is exactly what this man deserves," said Carie Lemack, whose mother, Judy Larocque, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11, which was flown into the World Trade Center. "He's an Al Qaeda wannabe and he does not deserve any credit for 9/11 because he was not part of it ... he just wanted to kill Americans but he wasn't even smart enough to do that."

The father of one Sept. 11 victim said he was bothered at the thought of Moussaoui getting to live, even if in a maximum-security prison.

"My son didn't see his 33rd birthday. From a personal point of view, I would have been more pleased, frankly, if the jury had made a different decision," David Beamer said, speaking from his car after receiving news of the verdict.

Beamer is the father of Todd Beamer, who has been hailed as one of the heroes of United Flight 93, which crashed into a rural Pennsylvania field after passengers fought back against their hijackers.

"I am not looking forward to summary reports on the anniversary of 9/11 on how is Moussaoui doing, is he alive and well, how is he surviving his life sentence. I certainly hope and pray we don't have an experience where certain factions claim his privileges are being denied, he's not getting what he deserves — I really, really don't want to hear any of that," Beamer said.

Moussaoui is the only person to have been charged in connection with the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people and launched the U.S.-led War on Terror. The French national of Moroccan descent was being held on immigration-related charges during the attacks.

Moussaoui could only have been put to death if the jurors unanimously decided he should receive the death penalty. Moussaoui, 37, will likely spend the rest of his years in the "Supermax" facility in Florence, Colo., which also houses failed shoe bomber Richard Reid.

A Question of How Much Moussaoui Knew

Adams said no jurors concluded Moussaoui's life should be spared so that he would not get his wish to become a martyr for jihad. Jurors also did not conclude that he was mentally ill. The panel of nine men and three women were more divided on how much knowledge Moussaoui had of the plot and whether he could have prevented the attacks.

Moussaoui's case was a precedent-setting one, in that prosecutors were asking for the death penalty while conceding he had no direct role in the crime. Prosecutors alleged that had Moussaoui divulged what he knew about the plot to authorities before the attacks, they could have been prevented.

But several jurors apparently did not feel that there was enough evidence to prove that Moussaoui's silence was directly responsible for the attacks.

"It's a tenuous argument because none of us will ever know and none of us could ever know what would have happened had he actually said something different before September 11," said Edward MacMahon, one of Moussaoui's defense attorneys. "But we wouldn't have had the second part of the case if [the jurors] hadn't found for the government that that's how Moussaoui was responsible for death."

Those in the legal community who have been highly critical of the government's case against Moussaoui were relieved at the jury's verdict.

"The only reason the government sought the death sentence against Moussaoui, who they knew had nothing of substance to do with 9/11, was because he was the only person they managed to have in custody," said Eric M. Freedman, a constitutional law professor at Hofstra Law School.

"The jury quite rightly rejected the effort of the government to leverage their own incompetence into an unjust act of revenge, and that's clearly shown by the fact that six of the jurors made clear that Moussaoui's connection to 9/11 was peripheral, if nonexistent."

In order to reach a death penalty verdict, jurors must have unanimously concluded that the government proved statutory aggravating factors that outweighed mitigating factors — such as his mental stability and not having played a direct role in the attacks — put forth by the defense.

Jurors had to pore over a 42-page verdict form and consider each factor as related to the three counts against Moussaoui: conspiracy to commit terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to destroy aircraft and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

The jurors had deliberated over Moussaoui's fate for seven days, having previously decided that Moussaoui was responsible for at least one death on Sept. 11 and thereby eligible for the death penalty.

Defense attorneys argued that Moussaoui had a history of mental illness, and was greatly exaggerating his importance to Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 plot. Moussaoui's attorneys also argued that he wanted to be put to death and become a martyr, and urged jurors to deny his wish.

After previously denying he had any role in the attacks, Moussaoui threw his defense attorneys a curveball by announcing in court testimony that he and Reid were supposed to fly a fifth plane into the White House. At one point, Moussaoui offered to testify against himself for the prosecution.

Moussaoui initially attempted to represent himself, but was eventually forced to accept legal help after a series of outbursts prompted Brinkema to boot him from the courtroom. Speaking outside the courthouse, MacMahon called Moussaoui the most difficult client he'd ever had.

When asked in his interview with FOX News when he'd last spoken to Moussaoui, MacMahon replied: "I haven’t spoken to Mr. Moussaoui for a long time, and that's just fine with me."

There has never been hard evidence connecting Moussaoui to the Sept. 11 attacks. Several high-profile Al Qaeda figures, including an architect of the attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, told U.S. investigators that Moussaoui was deemed too unstable to be included in the plot, and that he had been earmarked for a second wave of attacks. That testimony concurs with conclusions reached by the Sept. 11 commission.

Brinkema indicated her doubts about Moussaoui's sanity earlier in his trial, and according to a recently released transcript, told lawyers that she did not believe his claims about his knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I still think that Moussaoui was not accurate in a lot of what he said about how much he knew about what was going to happen with which particular buildings and when," Brinkema said in a closed hearing on April 21 with just the trial lawyers.

The sentencing phase of Moussaoui's trial was by all accounts emotionally taxing. Several family members testified about losing their loved ones in the attacks, and a harrowing cockpit voice recording from United Flight 93 was played in public for the first time.