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Government Will Seek Death Penalty Against Suspected Terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui

Aired March 28, 2002 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Up first on CNN, the life or death of the man accused of being the intended 20th hijacker on September 11th. Just a few minutes from now, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is expected to announce the government will indeed seek the death penalty against Zacarias Moussaoui. We will join the Ashcroft speech once it gets underway.

But first, while we wait for that, let's check in with our Susan Candiotti, who has been breaking this news this morning.

Susan, good morning.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.

We understand that decision has been made, and in fact the U.S. government will seek the death penalty against suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, the first and only person so far to be charged in connection with the September 11th attacks.

In fact, the U.S. government filed its motion just a short time ago at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia where the trial was scheduled. We have a quote from that filing. It says -- quote -- "The government will seek the sentence of death, and that the circumstances of the offenses are such that the sentence of death is justified."

You will recall that Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen, is charged with six conspiracy counts. Four of those six counts carry a possible death sentence upon conviction. Those accounts include conspiring to use a plane as weapon of mass destruction. In effect as a flying bomb. Now, we have reaction to the debate, or rather comments about the debate, that surrounded this issue from both a former federal prosecutor as well as the defense attorney. The former federal prosecutor first:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE WHITE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The depravity of this case is such that a message needs to be sent to the community and a message needs to be sent to the world: This is not something that America will tolerate. And that message is strongest sent by a death verdict.

(END VIDEO CLIP) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID BAUGH, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Stretch it to someone who didn't kill anyone himself, without any objective evidence that he knew that his training might be called upon to injure Americans on American soil, is really stretching the parameters and interpretation of that statute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Remember that Zacarias Moussaoui was jailed about a month before the September 11th attacks. He was jailed on immigration charges in Minnesota after he received some limited flight training at a school in Minnesota, and instructors there raise suspicions about him. That's why he was hut in jail.

There is still a question as to whether he was meant to be the 20th hijacker on one of the planes that was used September 11th, or whether he was alleged to have been a hijacker at a later time in a possibly future planned terrorist attack. You will recall also that in that he is a French citizen, the French government has been watching this case very closely indeed, and in fact they have gone on the record to say they would not be pleased at all if the U.S. government sought the death penalty against a French citizen, because of course France is very much opposed to the death penalty. They see it as a violation of one's civil rights.

So we do expect to hear more about this announcement in just a little while from the U.S. attorney general himself. He will be appearing at a news conference in Miami to discuss this. Zacarias Moussaoui's trial is scheduled for this fall.

Back to you, Daryn.

KAGAN: Susan, as you mentioned, we are going to see that live when the attorney general makes that announcement. A couple of points here that came up in your report, six conspiracy charges, four as you mention eligible for the death penalty.

But Zacarias Moussaoui through all of this is not accused of killing anyone.

CANDIOTTI: That's correct. This is strictly a conspiracy case, because of course he was in jail at the time of the September 11th attacks. And so it has also been argued that this is very much a circumstantial case against him. In fact, perhaps the closest bit of circumstantial evidence, as it were the strongest part of the government's case argued, is the fact that the allegedly the government has been able to tie Zacarias Moussaoui to receiving money payments it help pay for flight school from one of the alleged paymasters in the September 11th attacks.

KAGAN: As mentioned, the trial begins in September, but the government has to file its application to go for the death penalty by tomorrow, by Friday.

CANDIOTTI: That's right. Tomorrow is the deadline, and they filed a day early.

KAGAN: Very good. Thank you very much, Susan Candiotti.

I'm sure you will be watching that Ashcroft announcement with us, and we will have more on that in just a bit.

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