Moussaoui Jury Hits The Mark

Zacarias Moussaoui september eleven 9/11 twin towers terrorism ground zero CBS/AP

Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.



By failing to come up with a unanimous recommendation of death, Zacarias Moussaoui's jurors stuck it to him and the government he hates with a sentencing result that sends a clear but unwelcome message to both parties in the case.

To the confessed Al Qaeda conspirator, the jury of nine men and three women has just said "sorry, creep, but you don't rate high enough on the terror-meter to justify our ultimate punishment." And to the feds, the panel has just said: "sorry, but shame on you for trying to sell us this terror failure as another bin Laden."

It is a fitting end to a trial that never should have taken place over a man who was never worth the trouble he caused. Don't go away mad, these jurors finally told Moussaoui after a week of deliberations, just go away.

So now the curtain closes for a man who loved the attention he got every day in court, who loved to shout silly things as he left the courtroom, who made eyes at spectators in the gallery at court and who acted like a child even during the trial's most serious moments. The actor has lost his stage. The gamer of the system just got gamed.

Everyone who deserved to win in this saga did win. The jury deserves credit for not giving voice to the passions and prejudices it would have been easy to muster against a man who swore himself to be America's enemy.

It deserves praise for connecting with the nuances and complexities of story of 9/11-- and of the defendant and his relationship with Al Qaeda-- and not simply taking the easy and quick and no-doubt popular way out. It deserves admiration for not being bullied into a death sentence by prosecutors who tried lamely to overwhelm them not with hard evidence but with the horror of that awful day.

The verdict is a victory for Moussaoui's attorneys, who gamely represented the most uncooperative client imaginable. As defense lawyer Gerald Zerkin put it during closing arguments Monday, with vital constitutional principles at stake it wasn't hard for his team to ignore Moussaoui's scorn and simply do the best they did. And they did do their best, despite the weight and depth of the entire federal government arrayed against them.

Edward MacMahon, for example, tore apart the government's case against Moussaoui during phase one of this hearing, laying bare for all the world to see the governments' failures before 9/11 to foil the hijack plot and its inability afterward to concretely link Moussaoui to the crime.

The result also is a vindication for U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who said all along that this should not have been a capital case. She deserves praise, too, for not bending to the enormous legal and political pressure against her early on in the case, when everyone truly thought that Moussaoui was, indeed, the 20th hijacker.
  • Lloyd Vries

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