A federal jury in Virginia decided Monday that convicted terror conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty in the only criminal trial stemming from the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
Moussaoui pleaded guilty to six terror conspiracy charges a year ago. So the jury in the case was faced with a decision as to whether he should be eligible for the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison without chance for parole.
Federal court spokesman Edward Adams relayed the jury's response to a series of questions to reporters waiting outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington.
"At least one victim died on September 11, 2001, as a direct result of the defendant's act," said Edward Adams. "The jury answered yes. By this verdict, the jury has found that death is a possible sentence in this case."
After the judge and jury left the courtroom, Moussaoui, long known for his courtroom outbursts, shouted: "You will never get my blood. God curse you all."
The jury's unanimous decision that Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty now leads to a second phase in the trial to determine if the confessed al-Qaida conspirator should be put to death for his role in the 9/11 attacks and for withholding information from investigators.
This second part of the penalty phase of the trial is expected to take weeks and will involve testimony from relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks who will talk about the human impact of the tragedy.
Moussaoui was arrested three weeks before the 9/11 attacks in Minnesota and admitted lying to investigators to keep them from uncovering the al-Qaida plot.
Moussaoui initially testified that he had little knowledge of the attacks and was to be part of a follow-on attack that used airplanes to hit other high profile targets, including the White House.
But last week, Moussaoui startled the courtroom by claiming that he was part of the 9/11 plot and was supposed to fly a fifth hijacked airliner into the White House on September 11.
Prosecutors felt his testimony vindicated their contention that he should be put to death for remaining silent about the plot after his arrest.
Defense attorneys attempted to cast doubt on Moussaoui's new testimony by reading statements from captured al-Qaida plotters who said Moussaoui was not reliable.
Relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks had a range of reactions to the news that Moussaoui will be eligible for the death penalty.
Rosemary Dillard's husband Eddie was on the hijacked plane that slammed into the Pentagon on September 11.
"Yes, he deserves it, 2,997 people proved that he deserves it and my husband Eddie," said Rosemary Dillard. "But it is not just for my husband. It is about what he did to the United States. He did that to all of you."
Abraham Scott lost his wife, Janice, in the attacks. She was working inside the Pentagon when the plane hit.
"I thought I would be elated, but I wasn't," said Abraham Scott. "I don't think that Moussaoui is totally to blame. Even though I do believe that he deserves the death penalty, I also equally blame the government for not acting on certain indicators that could have prevented 9/11 from happening."
But others who lost family members in the attacks said they would have preferred that the jury remove the death penalty as an option, and instead send Moussaoui to prison for life without chance for parole.
Moussaoui is the only person tried and convicted in connection with the September 11 attacks.