Zacarias Moussaoui claimed victory over the US after a jury rejected the government's effort to put the Sept. 11 conspirator to death and instead decided to lock him away in prison for the rest of his life.
Moussaoui, who spent much of the two-month trial cursing the US, blessing al-Qaeda and mocking the suffering of Sept. 11 victims, offered one more taunt after the jury reached its verdict: "America, you lost. ... I won," he said, clapping his hands as he was escorted from the courtroom.
Moussaoui got one last chance to speak publicly yesterday when he was formally sentenced to life in prison. Barring an unforeseen circumstance, he will then be sent to a federal supermax prison in Colorado for the rest of his life under special conditions that will prevent him from having any contact with the outside world.
After seven days of deliberation, the nine men and three women rebuffed the government's appeal for death for the only person charged in the US in the suicide hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
It is not known how many jurors wanted Moussaoui sentenced to life and how many wanted a death sentence. Under federal law, a defendant automatically receives life in prison when a jury is split. The 42-page verdict form gives no indication on how, or if, the jury split.
Interestingly, the jury rejected two key defense arguments -- that Moussaoui suffers a mental illness and that executing him would make him a martyr. No jurors indicated on the verdict form that they gave any weight to those arguments.
Nine jurors found that Moussaoui suffered a difficult childhood in a dysfunctional family where he spent many of his early years in and out of orphanages. Three found that Moussaoui only played a minor role in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Defense lawyer Gerald Zerkin said outside court that "it was obvious that they thought his role in 9/11 was not very great and that played a significant role in their decision."
Prosecutors, who pursued the Moussaoui case for four-and-a-half years, declared themselves satisfied with the jury's verdict.
Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who was chief prosecutor in Alexandria in December 2001 when Moussaoui was first charged, noted that the jury in the trial's first phase found Moussaoui responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks by concealing the al-Qaeda plot from federal agents after Moussaoui was arrested in August 2001 on immigration violations.
"It only takes one juror to reject imposition of the death penalty, and we respect that," McNulty said.
Families of Sept. 11 victims expressed mixed views.
Carie Lemack, whose mother, Judy Larocque, died on hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center, said her mom didn't believe in the death penalty and would have been glad Moussaoui was sentenced to life.
"This man was an al-Qaeda wannabe ... who deserves to rot in jail," she said.