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Closing Arguments Heard in Moussaoui Sentencing

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The jury has the case now in the sentencing trial of Zarcarias Moussaoui. Earlier today, lawyers for both sides gave closing arguments on the first question for the jury, whether Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty. If the jurors decide he is eligible, the trial will move to a second phase.

Moussaoui had already pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaida to commit terrorism.

NORRIS: NPR's Laura Sullivan is with us from the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Laura, the prosecution says Moussaoui is directly responsible for the deaths on 9/11. How did they make that point in their closing arguments?

LAURA SULLIVAN: Well, what prosecutor David Raskin told the jury was very straight forward. He said people would be alive today if Moussaoui hadn't lied to investigators when he was picked up. And he said he lied on purpose because he was trained to lie from al-Qaida. And much of his opening statement was really very heavily weighted on what Moussaoui himself said in his own testimony, that he was going to crash a fifth plane into the White House, and he said because of that testimony it just blew all the defense arguments, he said, completely out of the water.

And to back that up he drew a lot of parallels between Moussaoui and the hijackers. And he reminded the jury that they only have to find that if Moussaoui had told the truth it would have led to them stopping one plane or one hijacker. And he said that that's really a no-brainer, that the FBI would have easily been able to stop the plot.

NORRIS: And how about the defense? They tried their best to pick apart the prosecution's case.

SULLIVAN: Well, they did. And it was really interesting, because this had to be a first in a federal death penalty case, because McMahon called his client ignorant, prejudiced, manipulative, a propagandist. At one point he called him an arrogant, dangerous, stubborn person. And that's not what you usually hear from defense attorneys arguing on behalf of their own client.

NORRIS: How did the defense answer the government's claim that they could've shut down 9/11, prevented it, if they only knew what Moussaoui knew?

SULLIVAN: Well, defense attorney Edward McMahon told the jury that the idea that the government could have stopped the plot, no matter what Moussaoui said, is just a dream. He said that believing that they could stop the plot requires you to forget everything you have learned in this case. And his quote was that "that's like seeing THE WIZARD OF OZ all the way to the end and still thinking that there's a wizard."

He asked where's the government's evidence about aviation security, and, of course, we in the public know that all of that was removed from the case by the judge. And, you know, he just really said that Moussaoui was never part of the 9/11 plot and that now he's just trying to take credit for it to seal his place in history. He pointed out that the government now says that Moussaoui's telling the truth, but that their entire case really rests on the fact that Moussaoui is a liar.

And, in the end, he really appealed to the jurors emotionally, and he said that, you know, you can see the contempt Moussaoui has for me and for this whole defense team and the court. He said, I would never ask you to do anything for Moussaoui. This case is about us as Americans. You are not the hateful, vengeful enemies that Moussaoui thinks you are, and render a verdict that reflects the truth of what this case is about.

NORRIS: Laura, it sounds like there's a lot going on in the street out there, so thanks so much for hanging in there. But before we let you go, this case now goes to the jury, correct?

SULLIVAN: It does. The jury will have to answer four questions about whether Moussaoui lied and whether those lies led directly to people dying. And if they find out that, in fact, yes to all four of those questions, then the trial will move to the second phase, when they will determine whether or not Moussaoui deserves the death penalty.

NORRIS: Thank you, Laura.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

NORRIS: NPR's Laura Sullivan at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. And you can go over all the twists and turns of the Moussaoui case on a timeline. You'll find that at our website, NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.
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