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Judge Formally Sentences Moussaoui to Life Without Parole

May 4, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: Zacarias Moussaoui did not go quietly today when he was formally sentenced to life in prison without parole for his role in the 9/11 attacks. Neil Lewis of the New York Times covered the three-month-long trial and was in the Alexandria, Virginia, courtroom today, and he joins us now.

So, Neil, after all of this time, what was it like, this final day?

Victims' families address Moussaoui

Rosemary Dillard
Wife of Sept. 11 victim
[Rosemary Dillard] became the first of three family members who came to the lectern, walked to the lectern in the middle of the courtroom, looked directly at Moussaoui, and gave their views.

NEIL LEWIS, New York Times: Well, the last final day, when the jury ruled that Moussaoui's life should be spared, left the judge today with little to do but a ministerial function of sentencing him to life in prison.

So there was no suspense in what was happening, but there was an abundance of drama. It was the end of this long ordeal, this long trial, and everybody had their say: Moussaoui made a speech; Moussaoui and the judge traded barbs; and three family members confronted Moussaoui. And it was quite a moment.

MARGARET WARNER: Who went first?

NEIL LEWIS: First, the judge -- I think, in a surprise for people -- said, "Are there any family members here in the courtroom who wish to talk about the impact?"

MARGARET WARNER: You mean that wasn't expected?

NEIL LEWIS: Certainly not, because I think, maybe, she didn't want to have a long queue of family members. And, in fact, it was so unexpected that, when she raised it, no one took her up on the offer, and Judge Brinkema started to move onto somebody else, until Rosemary Dillard raised her hand and said, "Wait a minute, I'd like to come up."

And she became the first of three family members who came to the lectern, walked to the lectern in the middle of the courtroom, looked directly at Moussaoui, and gave their views.

In her case, she said: You've destroyed my life. And then, if I could read it -- I thought she was eloquent -- she looks at him, and he's staring back impassively, and says, "I hope that you sit in that jail, without seeing the sky, without seeing the sun, without any contact with the world, and that your name never comes up in any newspaper again during the rest of my life."

And then she -- I thought she said something very eloquent. She says, "And I want to thank you, the judge, for what you did." She turns to the prosecutors, "Thank you for what you tried to do." And to the defense lawyers, "Thank you for what you had to do."

MARGARET WARNER: So Moussaoui, did he respond then?

Moussaoui's words to the court

NEIL LEWIS: Well, after the three family members spoke at him, the judge said it's customary for the defendant to have his moment. Did you want to speak? And he said yes.

He comes to the witness box -- she invites him up to the -- the judge invites him to the witness box. And he says, first, "I have planned to make a statement, but I'm putting it aside, because I want to respond to these family members."

And during the trial, he'd mocked the grief of many people, and he did here, as well. He used this as a platform for a speech. He said, "The first woman," and he speaks in a fractured English accent, a French accent, because that's his native language, "You say you lost the person you loved most. Well, what about the U.S. foreign policy, the CIA killing other people, do you care about that?"

And at some point very quickly, the prosecutor, the chief prosecutor, Rob Spencer said, no, he can't be making a speech here, and the judge agreed. He went on nonetheless to finish the end on his point and saying -- and he can sound plausible, so he got in some good rhetorical licks himself.

MARGARET WARNER: So was he still as venomous about the United States? Was he defiant? What was his sort of affect as he did this?

NEIL LEWIS: He was all of the things: He was venomous, defiant; the United States will lose; al-Qaida will prevail; and, by the way, you folks missed an opportunity to use this trial to find out why people like me and Mohammad Atta, one of the 9/11 pilots, why we hate you so much.

MARGARET WARNER: So then when did he and Judge Brinkema get into it?

Judge Brinkema chastises Moussaoui

Leonie Brinkema
U.S. District Court judge
[Brinkema] started laying into him, starting with the point that he, on the day before, greeted the verdict of life imprisonment saying, "America, you lose. I win." She said, "No, Mr. Moussaoui, you're wrong."

NEIL LEWIS: Well, if you think of it as -- she came up next for the sentencing. And Judge Brinkema, a gray-haired, short woman who's very scrupulous during the trial to show no partiality in any way and fairness, but she obviously had built up this emotional resentment.

And so she sentenced him to multiple life terms, and there's no parole in the federal system. And then she started laying into him, starting with the point that he, on the day before, greeted the verdict of life imprisonment saying, "America, you lose. I win." She said, "No, Mr. Moussaoui, you're wrong."

And she also made a speech saying, at the end of this session, everyone in this courtroom but you will walk out of here, smell the air, feel the breeze, hear the birds, but you will be in prison for the rest of your life.

And then he interjected. He's finished. He's not supposed to, but he interjects and said, "It was my choice." And she says, "No, it wasn't your choice."

And they had a second go-to in the end when he tries to interrupt, and she talks over him and says, "You're not to talk. You're not to be heard from again. That's an appropriate punishment: You will not be heard from again."

Living out his life sentence

MARGARET WARNER: And then, what, he was escorted out? Is he in shackles? What was that like?

NEIL LEWIS: He's not in shackles. He's in a green jumpsuit, and he is, under the jumpsuit, wearing a stun belt, in case he were to do something really extreme. And there are several marshals there, and one controls this stun belt, which would be very uncomfortable if they triggered it.

MARGARET WARNER: So he walked out, but didn't he have a parting shot?

NEIL LEWIS: He did. After, when the clerk says, "All rise and leave," he has a habit of saying something. And this time, he did again. He said, "You will never get Osama bin Laden. God curse America."

And he also said -- he repeated something that was an issue in the trial. He said -- and George Bush, he said, "G.W. Bush will free me before the presidency is over." Now, this was an issue in the trial whether to show he was delusional.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, finally, where he's going to be held. We hear it's a maximum security prison. It's pretty grim. But is Judge Brinkema right, he'll never be heard from publicly again, he won't see the birds, smell the air?

NEIL LEWIS: She's pretty much right. There was a witness for the defense that testified about life at this prison, called Supermax, in Florence, Colorado. He's totally in solitary confinement for most of the day. Guards speak to you very little, very few words, only utilitarian reasons. And the witness testified that it makes one's life deteriorate very quickly.

MARGARET WARNER: And there are other bad actors there, like Richard Reid, that's right?

NEIL LEWIS: Richard Reid, the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

MARGARET WARNER: But no contact. All right, Neil Lewis of the New York Times, thank you.

NEIL LEWIS: Thank you, Margaret.