ALEXANDRIA, Va., AP- Defense lawyers for Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui face a daunting task: persuading a jury to spare their client’s life after a week in which the horrors of the terrorist attacks were vividly revisited.
The defense was scheduled to begin its case Thursday morning in Moussaoui’s death-penalty trial. They argue that the jury should spare Moussaoui’s life because of his limited role in the 9/11 attacks, evidence that he is mentally ill and because his execution would only play into his dream of martyrdom.
One witness the defense intends to call is would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid, who is serving a life sentence in Colorado.
Moussaoui testified earlier in the trial that he and Reid were to have piloted a fifth plane into the White House on Sept. 11, even though Moussaoui previously had said for years that he was training for a wholly separate attack on another day.
Defense lawyers have suggested that Moussaoui lied during his testimony to ensure he would be executed and achieve martyrdom. The court-appointed defense lawyers — with whom Moussaoui refuses to cooperate — have also said Moussaoui is merely “an al-Qaida hanger-on” who is seeking to inflate his stature.
Mental health evidence will include the history of schizophrenia in Moussaoui’s family. A defense expert has said that Moussaoui probably suffers from schizophrenia, but Moussaoui has refused to cooperated with defense doctors’ evaluations.
Moussaoui has the right to testify again at this stage in the trial.
It is also likely that some family members of Sept. 11 victims will testify for the defense as the court-appointed lawyers try to counter those who testified for the government. Some family members have stated publicly that they do not want Moussaoui to be executed. Trial rules, however, prohibit witnesses from offering their opinion on whether Moussaoui should live or die.
The jury that will decide whether Moussaoui is executed or sentenced to life in prison has already heard from dozens of Sept. 11 family members, who offered agonizing, emotional testimony about the aftermath of their loved ones’ deaths.
Prosecutors capped their case Wednesday by playing the cockpit voice recorder from United Flight 93, which crashed in a western Pennsylvania field after passengers attempted to retake the plane from the hijackers.
The recording had never previously been played publicly.
The 30-minute recording includes the final six minutes, in which passengers stage their revolt. At 10 a.m., after a series of loud crashes as passengers apparently try to storm the cockpit, a hijacker asks in Arabic, “Shall we finish it off?”
The response comes back, “No, not yet.”
Then a voice is heard in English: “In the cockpit! If we don’t, we die!”
At 10:01 a.m., a hijacker asks again: “Shall we put it down?”
The response this time: “Yes, put it … down.”
At 10:03 a.m., the recording ends, as the plane slams into a Somerset County field at a speed exceeding 500 miles per hour.
The hijackers planned to crash the plane into the U.S. Capitol, according to Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. When it crashed, Flight 93 was only 10 to 20 minutes away from reaching Washington, according to the Sept. 11 Commission.
Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. The jury deciding his fate has already declared him eligible for the death penalty by determining that his actions caused at least one death on Sept. 11.
Even though he was in jail in Minnesota at the time of the attacks, the jury ruled that lies told by Moussaoui to federal agents a month before the attacks kept them from identifying and stopping some of the hijackers.