(photo credit: Associated Moussaoui)
A federal jury found al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui eligible Monday to be executed, linking him directly to the horrific September 11, 2001, terror attacks and concluding that his lies to FBI agents led to at least one death on that day.
A defiant Moussaoui said, "You'll never get my blood! God curse you all!"
After months of hearings and trial testimony - punctuated by Moussaoui's occasional outbursts - he now faces a second phase of the sentencing trial to determine whether he will be put to death for helping carry out the nation's worst terror assault: the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people as hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center, the military's Pentagon headquarters and a Pennsylvania field.
Moussaoui sat in his chair and prayed silently as the verdict was read, refusing to join his defense team in standing. His comment came after the hearing.
The jury now will hear testimony about whether the 37-year-old Frenchman, who was in jail at the time of the attacks, should be executed for his role.
Those testifying will include families of 9/11 victims who will describe the human impact of the al-Qaida mission. Court-appointed defense lawyers, whom Moussaoui has tried to reject, will summon experts to suggest he is schizophrenic after an impoverished childhood during which he faced racism in France over his Moroccan ancestry.
The trial's first phase, which focused strictly on legal arguments, had seemed Moussaoui's best chance to avoid execution. The jury deciding his fate will now be weighing the emotional impact of nearly 3,000 deaths against Moussaoui's rough childhood and possible evidence of mental illness.
On the key question before the jurors in phase one, they answered yes, at least one victim died September 11 as a direct result of Moussaoui's actions even though he was in jail at the time.
Had the jury voted against his eligibility for the death penalty, Moussaoui would have been sentenced to life in prison.
Rosemary Dillard, whose husband Eddie was killed in the attacks, said she felt a sense of vindication from the verdict.
"This man has no soul, has no conscience," she said. "What else could we ask for but this?"
Abraham Scott, who lost his wife Janice Marie on 9/11, said he felt sorry for Moussaoui, but not enough to drop the possibility of him getting the death penalty.
"I describe him like a dog with rabies, one that cannot be cured. The only cure is to put him or her to death," Scott said.
Scott said he also blamed the government "for not acting on certain indicators that could have prevented 9/11 happening."
The jury began weighing Moussaoui's fate Wednesday. During its deliberations, jurors asked only one question publicly, seeking a definition of "weapon of mass destruction." One of the three convictions for which Moussaoui could be executed is conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
The jurors were told that an airplane used as a missile - the tactic employed September 11 - qualifies as a weapon of mass destruction.
Moussaoui pled guilty last April to conspiring with al-Qaida to hijack aircraft and to commit other crimes. At the time, he denied being part of the 9/11 plot, saying he was being trained for a separate attack, but he changed his story when he took the stand and claimed he was to have flown a hijacked airliner into the White House that day. The defense suggested Moussaoui would say anything to derail his own defense so he could achieve martyrdom through execution.
Moussaoui was in jail at the time of the attacks, but prosecutors argue federal agents would have been able to thwart or at least minimize the attacks if he had revealed his al-Qaida membership and his terror plans when he was arrested and questioned by federal agents.
The defense argued that a confession from Moussaoui would have changed nothing because the FBI and other federal agencies were inept in processing terror threats in the time before September 11.
The judge said the jury was unanimous on all four aspects of each of the three counts against Moussaoui. Those counts were conspiracy to commit international terrorism, to destroy aircraft and to use weapons of mass destruction.
On each count, the jurors found the defendant was 18 or older at the time of the offense, intentionally lied to federal agents on August 16-18, 2001, and did so "contemplating the life of a person would be taken or intending that lethal force would be used." Further, they determined at least one person died September 11 as a direct result of the lies.
The judge asked the jurors if their verdicts were all unanimous, and all nodded affirmatively.
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