The prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui was a legal stretch, and a death sentence as a result of his lies to federal agents might have been overturned on appeal because he didn’t commit a murder, say legal experts quoted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A death sentence would have been the first for a defendant not convicted of murder since a 1978 Supreme Court ruling barred capital punishment for rape. A jury in Alexandria, Va., yesterday, refused to order the death penalty for Moussaoui.
The case hinged on the novel theory that Moussaoui could be put to death for failing to tell investigators all he knew about the suicide-hijacking plot when he was arrested. Michael Mello, a Vermont University law professor, doubts the Supreme Court would have let the government “kill him not for what he said, but for what he didn’t say.” David Bruck, a death penalty expert at Washington & Lee University’s Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, said the issue “has been lost in the case.” Said Bruck: “In this country, a person in custody is not required to tell the truth.”