Moussaoui Jury Ends Deliberations for Day

The Associated Press
Friday, April 28, 2006; 5:40 PM

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Jurors in the Zacarias Moussaoui case finished a fourth day of deliberations Friday without a verdict but not without an admonishment from the judge, exasperated by their determination to look up definitions on their own.

Early in the day, the nine men and three women surpassed the 16 1/2 hours they took to decide during the first phase of this sentencing trial that the confessed al-Qaida conspirator is eligible for the death penalty. Counting their 5-3/4 hours of work Friday, they have spent 21-3/4 hours so far without deciding whether the 37-year-old Frenchman deserves the death penalty or life in prison.

They are to resume deliberations Monday morning.

There is no way to tell how far along they are, but lawyers in the case believe the most time-consuming task they face is balancing the aggravating factors cited by prosecutors against the mitigating factors raised by the defense.

Once again, their desire for dictionary definitions brought them before U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema.

The judge received a note Friday from one juror who said he had looked up the word "aggravating" in a Webster's dictionary. He said he had thought her admonition against research applied to online research, but that other jurors told him Friday morning that his action violated her rules.

Earlier in the week, the jurors asked for a dictionary; Brinkema refused to supply one. She said that would be like adding evidence to the case and they should instead ask her for any definitions they wanted. She also cautioned the jurors, who go home every night, to avoid doing their own research, including looking up words.

This time, she called the offending juror in for questioning at a brief closed hearing and decided his misstep didn't compromise the jury's objectivity.

Then, in a short open session, Brinkema told the full jury that aggravating "essentially means to make something worse" and pointed to her jury instructions that defined aggravating factors as "factors or circumstances that tend to support the death penalty."

And she again warned them not to look up words or do online research. She did commend them for "policing" themselves by letting her know quickly of the infraction.

After the judge and jury left, Moussaoui declared loudly, as he was escorted out, "Moussaoui aggravating curse on America."

Moussaoui can only be executed for his part in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks if the jury believes unanimously that his crimes involved at least one of three main aggravating factors alleged by the government. If so, the jury must consider mitigating factors offered by the defense before reaching that decision.

Although the verdict will come down to one question _ whether Moussaoui lives or dies _ the jury faces dozens of questions on the 42-page verdict form _ each a piece of the puzzle about who this man is, what he did and what penalty he deserves.

In this case, prosecutors alleged three main aggravating factors for each of the three counts against Moussaoui. At least one must be proved to all 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt. These aggravators were that he committed his crimes in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner; that he committed his crimes knowing others besides the intended victims might die; and that he used substantial planning or premeditation.

Then prosecutors listed seven more aggravating factors, such as a lack of remorse, for the jury to consider separately. These extra factors, known as non-statutory, are optional elements meant to add weight to the federal case.

If none of the three main aggravating factors is proved, the case is over and Moussaoui goes to prison for life. But if any of the three are accepted by the jury, then the seven other aggravating factors and the 23 mitigating circumstances raised by the defense must be weighed, one by one.

Among them: Do jurors agree Moussaoui will not be a substantial risk to guards if imprisoned for life? Do they agree he was an ineffectual al-Qaida operative? Do they think he really believes he will achieve the afterlife rewards of a martyr if he is executed?

Unlike the prosecution, the defense does not have to prove its factors beyond a reasonable doubt or achieve unanimity on the jury. If any of the jurors thinks a mitigating factor is more likely true than not true, it becomes a factor for the jury to consider.

There is no formula for assigning weight to the factors jurors do decide to accept. Jurors can decide one aggravating factor outweighs all mitigating factors, or the other way around.

In the end, it comes down to life or death and what the jurors think. The questions tell them some of what they have to think about.


Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat and Calvin Woodward contributed to this story.


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