Local Reaction on Moussaoui Verdict

By: Philip Stewart
By: Philip Stewart

May 3, 2006

Zackarius Moussaoui will spend the rest of his life in prison for his role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The nine-man and three-woman jury returned its verdict after 41 hours of deliberations over 7 days, but many were expecting the death penalty.

Wednesday night a local legal and terrorism expert from UVA talked about the verdict with the Newsplex. He says the sentence does not undermine the seriousness of his crime.

"A 'life in prison' sentence is a major punishment," said Robert F. Turner of the Center for National Security Law at UVA.

The jury handed down the sentence after the government's legal team proved Moussaoui intentionally lied to investigators so that 9/11 would go forward. But questions arose over Moussaoui's sanity, and that could have affected the jury.

"If this was beyond his control," explained Turner, "you don't usually put to death crazy people."

Throughout the trial Moussaoui repeatedly said he wanted to be seen as a hero in the Arab world, dying for his fight against Americans.

"I think it's quite possible that some of the jurors looked at this and said, 'hey, he wants to go down in history as a great martyr. Lets deny him that opportunity,'" said Turner.

Many victim's families wanted the death sentence, but one family member said she was proud.

"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," said Roemary Dillard, who lost a family member on 9/11.

Other family members said today brought closure to their lives. For Turner, who often works with UVA law students, there may also be some legal lessons to be learned.

"There are some interesting issues of conspiracy law and evidence and so forth that might be drawn from this. But I think the big issue is it shows how truly difficult it can be to defend someone," he said.

Moussaoui certainly was difficult. There were numerous outbursts throughout the trial. Today, Moussaoui clapped his hands and declared "America, you lost. I won!" after the federal jury read its verdict.

A death sentence requires a unanimous decision by the entire jury. On Thursday Moussaoui will be formally sentenced. He will be allowed to speak and there is no doubt he will probably have a lot to say.

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