07 March 2006 :lawyers for the US government demanded the death penalty in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui who they said could have chosen to prevent the September 11 attacks. Moussaoui, a 37-year-old French citizen, sat quietly during the opening of the sentencing phase of his trial in Alexandria, Virginia, scrutinising the jury who must decide whether he is to be executed or imprisoned for life.
"He lied so the plot could proceed unimpeded," prosecuting attorney Rob Spencer told the court. "With that lie, he caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people. He rejoiced in the death and destruction. Had Moussaoui just told the truth, it would all have been different."
As relatives of those killed on September 11 watched on a network of closed-circuit TVs across the eastern US, Spencer described "a loyal al-Qaida soldier" who had detailed foreknowledge of the attacks. But Moussaoui's defence team - who were appointed by the court, and whom he refused to recognise - instead painted a picture of a fantasist who knew nothing of 9/11, and whose self-confessed dreams of launching other terrorist attacks were miles beyond his capability. "That is Zacarias Moussaoui in a nutshell," defence lawyer Edward MacMahon said. "Sound and fury, signifying nothing."
To achieve the death penalty, the prosecution had to convince the jury that Moussaoui had prior knowledge of September 11. Then, last April, he pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaida to hijack planes and commit other crimes - but he continues to maintain his plans were unrelated to September 11. He says he planned to hijack a 747 in order to free Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheikh being held in US custody. His confession rendered earlier wrangling irrelevant, and means the jury must decide only his sentence.