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Moussaoui Sentencing Jury Continues Deliberations

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The jury in the Zacarias Moussaoui sentencing trial goes into its second day of deliberations today. Jurors are trying to decide whether Moussaoui is legally eligible to receive the death penalty. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit terrorist acts. If the jury finds he is eligible, there will be a second phase and more testimony.

NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.

LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:

Not a lot of defense attorneys would end their case by calling their client a liar. But that's exactly what Moussaoui's defense lawyer Edward McMann did yesterday. And he didn't stop there. He called Moussaoui ignorant, prejudiced, manipulative, a propagandist, and an al-Qaida hanger-on.

Halfway through his closing statement, he leaned into the podium and said, Moussaoui is an arrogant, dangerous, stubborn person. And then he asked jurors to spare his life. McMann and the defense team's hands have been tied ever since Moussaoui insisted on taking the stand to testify this week.

Moussaoui bragged that he was supposed to fly a plane into the White House as part of the 9/11 plot. And he testified that he lied on purpose after he was caught so that the plot would go forward. McMann argued that Moussaoui was merely trying to take credit for something he wasn't a part of. He said Moussaoui was trying to, quote, "seal his place in history and become a martyr."

But as for much as McMann diminished Moussaoui's own words, prosecutor David Raskin put them front and center. In a clear, methodical outline, Raskin reminded jurors that Moussaoui said he felt grateful to have been part of the 9/11 plot. He said people would be alive today if Moussaoui had told the truth. He called it a no brainier that he FBI could have easily unraveled the plot in less than two weeks.

Defense attorney McMann, though, countered that the FBI, CIA and FAA were tangled up in bureaucratic incompetence before 9/11 and could have never foiled the plot. McMann told jurors that believing the government was capable of stopping 9/11 would be like, sing the Wizard of Oz all the way through to the end and still thinking there is a wizard.

In the end, McMann appealed to jurors directly. He said, I would never ask you or anyone else to ever do anything for Moussaoui. This case is about us as Americans. Render a verdict that reflects the truth. Moussaoui looked riveted in his green jump suit and white cap. He smirked and shook his head at the defense lawyers, and looked pleased when prosecutors called him a terrorist. The victims' families, though, just a few rows behind, choked back tears.

Afterward, Abraham Scott, whose wife died at the Pentagon, said the arguments left him a little conflicted.

Mr. ABRAHAM SCOTT: I do believe that he contributed to the death of Jan, my wife, as well as the other 2,000 plus victims, but I have some reservation in terms of him knowing the total mission of what transpired on 9/11.

SULLIVAN: The defense is hoping jurors will have the same problem. If not, they're hopping the jury will keep their client alive, simply because his wish seems to be to die. Last month, Moussaoui asked prosecutors if he could testify against himself. Prosecutors say this is proof Moussaoui's testimony was truthful, because he has nothing to lose.

Defense attorneys told the jury yesterday that they can't call him truthful today, and liar four and a half years ago.

Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: And in breaking news this morning, American reporter Jill Carroll has been freed in Baghdad. She is now with American authorities. MORNING EDITION is following this story throughout the morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.