Moussaoui Verdict -- Defeat for U.S. Government?

The announcement stunned many at the federal courthouse: Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The jury based its decision largely on the belief that Moussaoui was a low-level al Qaeda member who had a limited role in the Sept. 11 plot.

During the six-week trial, Moussaoui claimed he and convicted would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid were going to fly a plane into the White House on Sept. 11, 2001, but the jury didn't buy his story.

Even the prosecution acknowledged there was no evidence to support this claim, but because Moussaoui is the only person to be tried in court in connection with the Sept. 11 conspiracy, today's verdict represents a stinging defeat for the government.

"Now in our system of justice it only takes one juror to oppose or to object to the imposition of the death penalty, and we respect that and we accept that," said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty.

They jury's decision against execution came despite the fact that the prosecution resurrected the nightmare of the attacks by playing recordings of those trapped in the Twin Towers as they pleaded for their lives.

Moussaoui showed no remorse, even taking the stand to declare his desire to kill more Americans, but he still did not receive a death sentence.

The prosecution portrayed him as a cold-blooded killer whose lies to the FBI after he was arrested helped al Qaeda commit the worst act of terror in U.S. history. And the jury rejected the arguments.

Moussaoui will be formally sentenced on Thursday. He will be allowed to speak and there is no doubt he will probably have a lot to say.