Moussaoui: The Fork In The Road

Zacarias Moussaoui listens in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., on April 19, 2006, as a cult expert and psychologist testifies about Moussaoui's mental state, in the death penalty phase of his trial in connection with the conspiracy of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren

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

Telling jurors "enough is enough," Zacarias Moussaoui's prosecutors urged the panel Monday to send the confessed Al Qaeda operative off to the sweet hereafter "because there is no place on this good earth" for him.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, begged jurors to channel the better angels of their nature and rebuff the government's attempts to turn their befuddling client into a Middle Eastern poster child for jihad.

Closing arguments in this terror conspiracy trial were as discordant as was the trial itself.

The defense says Moussaoui should live because he says he wants to die. The feds say that Moussaoui should die because he says he wants to live. The defense asked jurors not to become instruments of Moussaoui's plan to achieve martyrdom. Prosecutors asked jurors not to go all wobbly on their under-oath promise to recommend a death sentence if the facts warranted it.

Prosecutors pitched rage and showed jurors pictures of body parts. The defense pitched therapy and read jurors a children's book. The feds called Moussaoui "pure evil" — said he's killed before "and would kill again in prison"— and called the defense case a bunch of "psycho hogwash."

Moussaoui's lawyer told jurors that his client is trying to "bait" them into recommending the death penalty and that the government has falsely held out his death as a cure for the pain held by many 9-11 victims. There just wasn't a whole lot of love in the room.

When you match a monumental crime with an historic trial, and when you match both with a small man not worthy of the attention, you get the surrealism qua farce that soaked through the walls here in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

There was prosecutor David Novak, spitting mad, telling jurors in one breath that those who kill in the name of God (he had, of course, Moussaoui in mind) warrant a special kind of shame while in the next breath urging jurors to recommend a death sentence against the defendant in the name of "righteousness."

And there were defense attorneys, who didn't have much else to say to jurors, reminding the panel about Moussaoui's poor childhood, as if his travails as a poor, abused Muslim boy growing up with an awful family would have any particular resonance with a jury of folks who live in the shadow of the Pentagon and who are being required to sign a special certification on the verdict form that confirms they have not condemned Moussaoui on the basis of his race or religion.

There were prosecutors, elevating Moussaoui to the status of mass murderer even though he was sitting in a jail cell in Minnesota on 9-11. There were the feds, comparing Moussaoui to Osama bin Laden himself and claiming that both were "loving every minute" of the carnage on 9-11.

There was the government attorney, telling jurors that Moussaoui spoke the truth when he incriminated himself but that Moussaoui's terror boss, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, could not be trusted when he said that Moussaoui was never part of the hijack plot. Some terrorists make credible witnesses but others, apparently, do not.

And there were the defense attorneys, struggling for material to get through even a short closing argument, who were forced to talk at great length to the jury about Moussaoui's alleged mental health problems.

  • Lloyd Vries

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