Zacarias Moussaoui

06 February 2006 :

Zacarias Moussaoui returns this week to the courtroom where a jury will determine whether he should be executed for his crimes. In April, Moussaoui -- the only person charged in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks -- pleaded guilty to all six counts against him. A jury will now determine whether he is sentenced to death or life in prison.
In the first step of a lengthy process to choose a jury, 500 prospective jurors will appear at the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, on February 6 to fill out detailed questionnaires.
The questionnaire, which runs about 50 pages, asks prospective jurors about their personal data as well as specific questions related to terrorism, al Qaeda and the September 11 hijackings.
US District Judge Leonie Brinkema has set aside one month -- an unusually long time -- to pick a jury of 12 people plus six alternates. Final jury selection and opening statements are scheduled for March 6.
Brinkema will be trying to seat an impartial jury for the trial being held just a few miles (km) from the Pentagon -- one of the targets on September 11.
Brinkema has also ruled that, due to the intense media scrutiny and public interest in the case, jurors will remain anonymous. She has forbidden photographs or courtroom sketches that show the facial features or hair of jurors.
The trial to determine Moussaoui's sentence will consist of two stages.
The first phase will be to determine whether Moussaoui, 37, intentionally lied to the FBI in interviews prior to September 11 about his knowledge of the plan to hijack planes.  
If the jury determines he did lie, preventing the government from possibly stopping the attacks, then another phase of the trial will be held to see whether Moussaoui should be given the death penalty or life in prison. If the jury finds that he did not lie, he faces a sentence of life in prison.
Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, was detained in Minnesota in August 2001 on immigration charges after raising suspicions at a flight school. He was indicted in December 2001 for conspiracy to carry out the September 11 attacks.
In April, Moussaoui pleaded guilty to all six counts of the indictment that charged him with conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, to commit aircraft piracy, to destroy aircraft, to use weapons of mass destruction and to murder US employees and destroy property. Four of the charges carry a maximum sentence of death.
Moussaoui had denied being a part of the September 11 plot but when he pleaded guilty, he said that Osama bin Laden had picked him to fly a plane into the White House as part of a wider conspiracy.
The trial had been delayed repeatedly for appeals over Moussaoui's access to al Qaeda detainees who he says can bolster his case.
Moussaoui's lawyers say it will be difficult for the government -- which had been repeatedly criticized for failing to pick up on intelligence clues that might have helped prevent the hijackings -- to make its case.
"Substantial evidence will be presented at trial that the United States government knew more about al Qaeda's plans to attack the United States than did Mr. Moussaoui," his lawyers said in a court filing in November.
"There is no evidence in the record that Mr. Moussaoui knew of any of the actual September 11 hijackers by name, that they were in the United States or their locations," they wrote.

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