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Moussaoui jury split on mitigating factors

Zacarias Moussaoui is the only person convicted in the U.S. of playing a role in the 9/11 attacks.



Zacarias Moussaoui
Acts of terror
Capital Punishment

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Jurors were divided Wednesday on the 23 mitigating factors presented by the defense team in the sentencing trial of admitted al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, according to court documents.

The federal jury found that Moussaoui should be sentenced to life in prison -- rather than the death penalty -- for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Three jurors wrote in their own mitigating factor, saying Moussaoui had "limited knowledge of the 9/11 attack plans," said court spokesman Edward Adams.

"The jury verdict form does not indicate the number of jurors who voted for a sentence of life or the number of jurors, if any, who voted for a sentence of death," Adams said.

"All that the jury was required to report was that they were not unanimous in favor of a sentence of death."

Although Moussaoui was behind bars on September 11, he pleaded guilty last year to terrorism conspiracy.

Jurors had already found that Moussaoui's lies to federal investigators a month before the attacks furthered al Qaeda's plot and directly resulted in at least some 9/11 deaths, making the defendant eligible for execution.

In the trial's second phase, jurors weighed factors such as the heinousness of the crime and its impact on the victims' families against Moussaoui's background and mental health.

Adams said the 23 mitigating factors presented by the defense had to be proved by a preponderance of the evidence, a lower standard than the one that was used for the prosecution's 10 aggravating factors -- beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jurors' findings outlined by Adams all related to count one -- conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries. The other counts were conspiracy to destroy aircraft and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

The jurors unanimously accepted eight of the 10 aggravating factors presented by the prosecution, Adams said.

The jury had to accept at least one of three statutory aggravating factors for the death penalty to be considered. They accepted two -- that Moussaoui "knowingly created a grave risk of death" for more than the intended 9/11 victims and carried out his conspiracy with "substantial planning."

On the third statutory factor, jurors did not unanimously find that Moussaoui committed an offense "in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse."

The non-statutory aggravating factor that was not unanimously accepted was that Moussaoui's actions resulted in the deaths of approximately 3,000 people.

On the mitigating factors, only a single juror had to find a factor was proved for it to be considered in determining the sentence, Adams said.

Adams said jurors were able to write in mitigating factors they believed were proved but were not suggested by the defense team. Jurors wrote in one such factor on count one.

"They wrote that the defendant had limited knowledge of the 9/11 attack plans," he said. "Three jurors found that mitigating factor to have been proven."

Twelve of the mitigating factors were unanimously rejected by the jurors, including the defense assertion that Moussaoui suffers from a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia. No juror accepted that Moussaoui believed he would achieve martyrdom through execution, Adams said. (Read partial Adams transcript)

At least one juror found that 11 of the mitigating factors were proved, Adams said. No more than nine jurors accepted any single factor.

That number found that Moussaoui's "unstable early childhood and dysfunctional family" resulted in him leaving home at a young age, and that Moussaoui's father had a violent temper and abused his family.

Gerald Zerkin, a defense attorney for Moussaoui, said after the verdict that apparent inconsistencies in the jurors' decisions "are always going to be found" in such capital cases.

"Jurors might have found that something was true, but found that it was not mitigating, so you have to factor that in as well," Zerkin told reporters.

"Listening to the result, it's obvious that [jurors] thought that his knowledge of 9/11, his role in 9/11, was not very great. And that played a significant role in the result," he said.

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