US seeks death penalty for Moussaoui

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia - A US jury began deliberating Zacarias Moussaoui's fate on Monday (today NZT) after prosecutors requested the death penalty for the September 11 conspirator and the defence implored jurors to send him to prison for life so he would not become a martyr.

The jury did not reach a verdict after three hours of deliberations and were to return on Tuesday.

The only US case related to the deadly hijacked airliner attacks went to the jury after District Judge Leonie Brinkema gave them roughly an hour of instructions.

In closing arguments, Assistant US Attorney David Raskin asked the jury to decide to execute Moussaoui, who said he would have participated in the September 11 attacks if he had not been arrested the previous month on immigration charges.

"Let me be blunt, ladies and gentlemen," said Raskin. "There is no place on this good Earth for Zacarias Moussaoui."

But one of the court-appointed defence lawyers, Gerald Zerkin, urged the jury to instead make a decision that "requires some courage" and sentence Moussaoui to life in prison.

"He wants you to sentence him to death. He came to America to die in jihad and you are his last chance," Zerkin said.

"He clearly sees that as his last way to martyrdom."

The jury will just decide the sentence since Moussaoui has pleaded guilty to six conspiracy counts relating the September 11 plot.

Moussaoui, 37, sat in the courtroom staring at the 12-member jury during most of closing proceedings. But as he left for a morning break, Moussaoui said, "You'll never get me, America. Never ever."

After the jury left to begin deliberating, Brinkema lauded the attorneys and noted that the defence lawyers - with whom Moussaoui will not speak - had an "impossible client."

"There never has been a defendant as difficult as this one," said Brinkema.

Prosecutors earlier dismissed defence claims that Moussaoui was mentally ill and that he sought martyrdom.

Raskin said Moussaoui was "elated that al Qaeda murdered 2,972 innocent people on September 11."

"Enough is enough," Raskin said. "It is time to put an end to his hatred and venom. It is time to sentence Zacarias Moussaoui to death."

The panel of nine men and three women must be unanimous in order to sentence Moussaoui to death. The same jury already decided Moussaoui was eligible for the death penalty.

Zerkin said the US government was offering up Moussaoui as a "sacrificial lamb."

"The government opts for retribution against the only person it has brought to trial in relation to 9/11," the lawyer said in describing Moussaoui as an inept al Qaeda operative.

The jury is considering evidence presented during two weeks of testimony by survivors and family members of victims of the deadly hijackings that killed about 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon outside Washington not far from the federal courthouse.

Prosecutors showed gruesome pictures of charred bodies and a video clip of people jumping from New York's World Trade Center during their closing arguments.

Zerkin said the government was trying to assuage the families' pain with Moussaoui.

"If the people who testified ... need the death of Mr. Moussaoui to recover, it can only be because the government has held that out for them," he said. "The government has held out the prospect of Mr. Moussaoui's execution as being the cure."

Moussaoui testified twice in the trial. He contradicted previous statements by saying he was meant to pilot a fifth plane into the White House as part of the hijacking plot, though the government offered nothing to support that claim.

The 37-year-old French citizen also said he wished more Americans could have suffered in the attacks.

- REUTERS

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