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Graphic Testimony Marks Moussaoui Trial

April 6, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: This past Monday, jurors unanimously decided that Zacarias Moussaoui was eligible for the death penalty, after finding that his lies to the FBI before the 9/11 attacks made him responsible for at least some of the deaths that day.

The second phase of his sentencing trial, to determine whether Moussaoui should be executed or spend his life in prison, began this morning.

Jerry Markon of “The Washington Post” has been covering the trial. And he joins us now from outside the Alexandria, Virginia, federal courthouse.

Jerry, welcome. Tell me this, first of all.

JERRY MARKON, The Washington Post: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Explain briefly, if you could, what is different about this phase vs. the first? In other words, what does the prosecution have to demonstrate here that they didn’t have to, to actually see Moussaoui sentenced to death?


Well, legally — legally speaking, the second phase is — is an issue of, they have to show that — they have to — the jurors are going to have to weigh a different set of factors. The prosecutors are presenting a series of what is called aggravating factors, which they argue are reasons Moussaoui should be executed. Among those are his lack of remorse, the destruction and damage caused in New York City by the attacks.

And the defense is presenting what is known as mitigating factors. The main ones they seem to be talking about are Moussaoui’s troubled mental state and his troubled childhood as well. And, from a legal point of view, the jury will have to balance these two factors.

And if they decide that the aggravating outweigh the mitigating, they vote for death. But, in — but, in practical terms, what the second phase is really about is emotion. And we can talk at length about, you know, some of the really emotional testimony today.

But that’s the difference. The first part was more about legal stuff. The second part is about emotion.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, the first witness the prosecution called today was the former New York mayor, as we know, Rudy Giuliani. What was the sort of most gripping part of his testimony?

JERRY MARKON: His testimony was very emotional, very gripping in every way.

I would say, probably the most gripping part was when he talked in very sort of starkly personal terms about the impact 9/11 had on him. As — as your viewers, I’m sure, know, I mean, Mr. Giuliani gained fame as sort of America’s mayor for his handling of 9/11. And he said he still thinks about it every day, even five years later. He said he thinks about all the gruesome things he saw, the body parts on the streets, the people jumping out of the towers, and the destruction of that day.

And he thinks about all the funerals he went to, because he went to, I think he said, hundreds of funerals and wakes. And it was just, you know, really gripping testimony from someone who — a very famous individual, who sort of turned people’s heads when he walked in, quite frankly. Everyone — everyone was sort of craning their neck to see him. But he offered really heartrending testimony.

MARGARET WARNER: And then, I gather, there was some fairly heartrending testimony this afternoon from other people who had been there at the scene.

JERRY MARKON: Oh, God, this afternoon was just awful.

I mean, there — there is really no other way to put it. I mean, they — they — they put on a woman who happened to be a tourist on a long weekend in New York, had a video camera, was right by the Trade Center, you know, saw the towers, the — the plane hit the towers, picked up her camera, and shot all of the bodies falling, you know, when people jumped out.

So, the prosecutors today had her narrate, essentially narrate her own video. And, you know, they pointed to the bodies. They pointed to the body parts. You know, what is this? They — at one point, they circled, you know, what appeared to me to be sort of an unrecognizable blob. And they said, you know, what is this?

And this woman, this poor woman, who was sobbing, I mean, literally broke down on the stand, you know, said, oh, that is a guy who, you know, was on fire as he jumped out of the tower. And that’s — those are his remains. I mean, that is sort of the level at which we were talking about here today.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, how did the jurors react to all this? What could you tell from their reaction?

JERRY MARKON: They — they were kind of hard to read, as jurors tend to be. They I would say were mostly just grim. I mean, they had grim looks on their face, as I would say just about everybody in the courtroom did, except Moussaoui. And we can get to that.

I will tell you, at one point, we saw — one of our reporters saw the court clerk put a bunch of boxes of tissue, you know, in the jury box, which was an interesting detail. You know, I wasn’t always right by the jury. But at — at the times I was, I didn’t see any jurors breaking down or crying or anything.

But they clearly were paying very close attention. They seemed mesmerized by Mayor Giuliani in particular. And they were just — they were just grim.


JERRY MARKON: … which seemed to be appropriate given — go ahead.


And, then, tell us about Moussaoui’s reaction.

JERRY MARKON: Well, it is interesting.

Moussaoui looked bored, I would say, a great deal of the time. I caught him looking at his — looking at the clock several times. But, at other moments, he was smiling. And, in particular, when the — the prosecutors today played a lot of those familiar, you know, television, you know, videos of the planes hitting the towers, and the towers collapsing, and every time they played a video like that, Moussaoui smiled and sort of, you know, mumbled softly to himself.

And, at one point, I noticed, when Mayor Giuliani talked about body parts, he smiled right at that moment. And another I thought — I think interesting detail was, when Moussaoui’s lawyer — his own lawyer got up to cross-examine Mayor Giuliani, he started by saying: I want to offer my condolences, Mr. Mayor, to all the losses you suffered.

And, at that moment, Moussaoui was just like furiously shaking his head. You know: No, you shouldn’t say that.

MARGARET WARNER: And, then, I gather…


MARGARET WARNER: … just briefly that this is going to go on for about three weeks; is that right?

JERRY MARKON: That’s probably a ballpark estimate. I mean, it could be — could be four. I suppose it could be two-and-a-half, but, you know, probably not less than three weeks, because the prosecutors are talking about putting on 40 to 45 victims, you know, family members of 9/11 victims, and also survivors of the actual attacks themselves.

And, you know, that will certainly take time. And there is — there’s you know, tapes coming. There is a — the cockpit voice recorder from Flight 93, where the hijackers — where the passengers tried to take over the plane from the hijackers, is coming.

So, I think we’re looking — you know, when you talk about the jury getting it, we’re looking at, at least another month, conceivably maybe a little more.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Jerry Markon of The Washington Post, thank you so much.

JERRY MARKON: Thank you.