By Jerry Markon and Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 5, 2006
A juror in the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui said yesterday that some members of the panel decided that the al-Qaeda conspirator should not be executed because he was a bit player in the Sept. 11 attacks and did not kill anyone that day.
"He wasn't necessarily part of the
9/11 operation," said the juror, who spoke about the panel's deliberations on condition of anonymity. "His role in 9/11 was actually minor," said the juror, who voted for a life prison sentence even though he considered Moussaoui "a despicable character" and someone who "mocks and taunts family members whose loved ones died."
Moussaoui did just that one last time yesterday, when he was formally sentenced to life in prison -- a day after the jury rejected the death penalty. In a final display of vitriol, the only person convicted in the United States in the 2001 attacks confronted the families of the victims and the judge he has spent years insulting.
Even after U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema instructed him not to make a political speech, Moussaoui, 37, leaned forward in his chair, his lips touching a microphone and hissed: "God curse America, and God save Osama bin Laden! You will never get him!"
Brinkema replied with a smile, noting that Moussaoui had yelled "America, you lost! . . . I won!" after the jury delivered its verdict.
"Mr. Moussaoui, if you look around this courtroom today, every person in this room when this proceeding is over will leave this courtroom, and they are free to go anyplace they want," she said before pronouncing the mandatory life sentence. "They can go outside, and they can feel the sun, they can smell fresh air . . . but when you leave this courtroom, you go back into custody. In terms of winners and losers, it is quite clear who won yesterday and who lost yesterday."
"That was my choice!" Moussaoui interrupted.
"It was hardly your choice," Brinkema answered, barely looking up as she said that the verdict -- and the more than four years the government spent bringing the complex case to trial -- represented "a great win for the American people."
The judge concluded by voicing contempt for Moussaoui's oft-expressed desire to have been part of the Sept. 11 operation, in which he said he was supposed to fly a fifth hijacked airplane into the White House.
"You came here to be a martyr and to die in a big bang of glory," Brinkema said. "But to paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, you will die with a whimper."
And with that, the judge left the courtroom, and a case that has transfixed Americans through years of delays and twists and turns was finally over. Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with al-Qaeda in the Sept. 11 attacks, was expected to be transferred soon from the Alexandria jail to the nation's only federal "super maximum" security prison, in Florence, Colo., where he will live out his days in solitary confinement.
It was precisely Moussaoui's testimony -- when the Sept. 11 conspirator took the stand and gleefully said he had planned to attack the White House with a crew that included "shoe bomber" Richard Reid -- that convinced one of the jurors that he was embellishing his role.
"The moment he said the name Richard Reid I thought he was lying," the juror said in an interview yesterday. "It seemed like Moussaoui's role in 9/11 was increasing over time."
By order of the court, the jurors were anonymous, although Brinkema told them that they were free to discuss their deliberations if they wished. The juror contacted a Washington Post reporter, who recognized the juror from the trial. He spoke to The Post anonymously because he did not want to be hassled if his name were revealed.
Although he would not give the jury's final vote, he said he felt it was important for people to understand how the nine men and three women methodically arrived at their verdict.
For this juror, the hardest part was the nightmares.
On many sleepless nights, he struggled to block out the voice of the Sept. 11 conspirator, spitting venom at America.
Equally traumatic were his nightmares about the relatives of victims who testified. "It was very difficult to hear. It was like attending one funeral after another for days on end," the juror said. "But we had to move beyond our own emotions and really focus on the law."
Inside the jury room, this juror said, the atmosphere was relaxed. "It was like a college seminar debate class, where every point of view is voiced. There was never any finger-pointing, anyone saying you need to think this way," he said.
In the trial's first phase, jurors quickly found Moussaoui eligible for the death penalty because they focused on the government's argument: that the Sept. 11 attacks could have been stopped if Moussaoui had not lied to the FBI when he was arrested in August 2001.
The jury started by making a list of the five "essential" lies the defendant told FBI agents and then created a timeline "of what was very likely to have happened if he hadn't lied," the juror said. Jurors concluded that FBI agent Harry Samit, who interviewed Moussaoui in Minnesota and testified that his superiors failed to act on his more than 70 warnings that he was a terrorist, would have obtained a warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings if the defendant had told the truth about the pending al-Qaeda plot.
That, jurors believed, would have quickly enabled investigators to uncover the plot. "Samit was like a bulldog with a bone. He wouldn't let go," the juror said.
As for the defense's primary first-phase argument -- that the FBI ignored numerous warning signs before Sept. 11 and would have failed to act on Moussaoui's information as well -- the juror said: "The FBI wasn't on trial. Moussaoui was."
But the debate grew more difficult in the trial's second phase, when prosecutors presented more than three dozen family members of Sept. 11 victims, who often sobbed as they testified about their loss.
The juror said he and his colleagues were deeply moved by them but thought they had to put aside both their emotions and their disgust for Moussaoui and "really focus on the law."
And when they did that, a number of jurors questioned whether "the death penalty is really an appropriate punishment for lying," the juror said. He said a number of jurors thought Moussaoui "wasn't fully aware of the 9/11 plot. He may have been part of a parallel operation, a second wave of attacks, but he wasn't anywhere close to flying a plane on 9/11."
The jury took 41 hours to decide on life in prison -- a deliberation period considered long even for a death-penalty case -- because the 42-page verdict form was so complicated, the juror said. He said the panel went through the form question by question and voted on each "aggravating" or "mitigating" factor individually after discussing it. "The number of questions was really quite significant,'' the juror said. "That's why we were in there for so long.''
The juror said he was one of three people on the panel who wrote a "mitigating factor" on the verdict form, saying that Moussaoui had "limited knowledge" of the Sept. 11 plot. He said nine jurors decided that Moussaoui's dysfunctional childhood was a mitigating factor in part because a number of them read a book by Moussaoui's brother, which was entered into evidence, in the jury room. But he said that was far less significant to the final decision than the questions about Moussaoui's Sept. 11 role.
As for the defense argument that executing Moussaoui would make him a martyr, the juror said the panel quickly dismissed it because defense attorneys had presented no evidence. "It was just the lawyers saying it," he said. "If the defense had brought in an al-Qaeda expert to talk about al-Qaeda's reaction or something like that, then we would've had something to evaluate."
And as to the question that has long been debated -- whether Moussaoui is mentally ill -- the juror said the panel compared the testimony of a defense psychologist who said Moussaoui suffers from paranoid delusions with that of a prosecution expert who said he is eccentric but sane. No juror found that Moussaoui's mental state was a mitigating factor, the juror said, because the prosecution expert had examined Moussaoui three times and the defendant had refused to meet with the expert his attorneys had hired. "We really just looked at the doctors,'' he said.
The juror lavishly praised Brinkema's handling of the case and lawyers for both sides. But he said that the nightmares about the case have continued and that "I never, ever want to be on jury duty for the rest of my life. I hope I get a free pass."
In the federal courtroom yesterday, Brinkema asked whether any Sept. 11 victims wanted to speak. There was a rustling in the third row, where family members have sat since the trial began two months ago.
Rosemary Dillard, whose husband, Eddie, was killed Sept. 11, walked to the podium, turned toward Moussaoui and said angrily: "I want you, Mr. Moussaoui, to know that you have wrecked my life. . . . With you, I feel nothing but disgust.'' Moussaoui stared back impassively.
Lisa Dolan, who lost her husband, U.S. Navy Capt. Bob Dolan, at the Pentagon, kept her comment succinct: "There is still one final judgment day.''
When Moussaoui took the stand for his final statement before sentencing, he glared at the family members and said: "You have an amount of hypocrisy beyond any belief. Your humanity is a very selective humanity."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Spencer rose to object, saying Moussaoui should not be allowed to make a political speech. Brinkema agreed, but Moussaoui continued in the same vein.
"I fight for my belief, and I'm a mujahedin, and you think that you own the world . . . and I would prove you wrong," Moussaoui said. "We will come back another day."
But Brinkema had the last word.
"The rest of your life you will spend in prison," Brinkema said as Moussaoui tried to talk over her one last time. But the judge, who is a trained singer, spoke louder, drowning him out.
"You will never again get a chance to speak, and that is an appropriate and fair ending. This case is now concluded."