A federal jury in Virginia decided Wednesday to spare the life of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged and convicted in connection with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
After deliberating about 40 hours over a nearly two-week period, the jury decided that Moussaoui should not be executed and should instead be sent to prison for life without chance of parole.
A death sentence would have required a unanimous vote by the jury. The jury recommendation is binding on the judge in the case and Moussaoui will be formally sentenced on Thursday.
The verdict was announced by court spokesman Edward Adams outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington.
"Under the law, the jurors may also write in mitigating factors they believe have been proven by the evidence but were not suggested to them by defense counsel," said Edward Adams. "On count one, the jurors wrote in one such factor. They wrote that the defendant had limited knowledge of the 9/11 attack plans. Three jurors found that mitigating factor to have been proven."
As Moussaoui was led out of the courtroom after the verdict on Wednesday, he shouted, "America, you lost. I won."
Moussaoui is a 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent. He is the only person charged and convicted in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Moussaoui was arrested three weeks before the attacks while undergoing flight training in Minnesota. He later testified that while he knew the outlines of the 9/11 plot, he was training to be part of a second wave of terrorist attacks and that he was supposed to fly a hijacked plane into the White House.
Moussaoui pled guilty last year to six terror conspiracy charges.
Wednesday's sentencing verdict came after four years of legal maneuvering and a six-week penalty trial that forced the nine men and three women on the jury to relive the horror of the 9/11 attacks, including photos of the carnage and the playing of cockpit tapes from United Flight 93. That was the plane on which passengers fought back against the hijackers and that eventually crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
The penalty phase of the trial was punctuated by frequent outbursts from Moussaoui that included taunting relatives of 9/11 victims who gave emotional testimony.
Reaction to the life in prison verdict for Moussaoui among 9/11 family members was mixed. But many said they supported the jury's decision not to give Moussaoui the death penalty.
Rosemary Dillard lost her husband Eddie in the attack. He was aboard the hijacked jetliner that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11.
"It is not going to be what all the families want," said Rosemary Dillard. "But what it shows the world is that we are not going to stand for terrorists to come to our country and to be let loose. He will be in confinement. He will not be released and we can all take pleasure or gratitude in that. He is a bad man. But we have a fair society here."
Previously, the jury decided that Moussaoui was eligible for the death penalty because he lied about his knowledge of the 9/11 plot after his arrest in August of 2001. Prosecutors said the government might have been able to prevent the 9/11 attacks had he told investigators what he knew.
Defense attorneys argued that Moussaoui had exaggerated his role in and knowledge of the 9/11 plot and that he was mentally unstable.
The White House issued a statement that said the verdict represents the end of the Moussaoui case but not an end to the fight against terror. The statement went on to say that the enemy that struck the U.S. on September 11 remains determined to kill Americans.