ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A clinical psychologist hired by the defense told a federal jury yesterday that admitted terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui is a paranoid schizophrenic who began to lose his ability to reason a decade ago, when he first embraced radical Muslim extremism in England.
All day long the mental health expert from New York testified, describing for the defense his bizarre jailhouse interview with Moussaoui in which the 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent talked to himself and spat water at anyone who came near.
"He really wasn't processing reality very well," said Xavier Amador. "I came to the conclusion that this looked like a delusion of some kind. He had paranoid schizophrenia."
But under cross-examination by prosecutors, Amador conceded that he could not say for certain what came first -- Moussaoui's exposure to extremists at the Brixton mosque in London or a family history of schizophrenia that finally appeared in Moussaoui himself.
"Did his illness facilitate his desire to join a hate-filled paranoid group?" Amador testified. "I don't know."
Amador was on the stand for an hour Monday and all day yesterday. Defense lawyers plan to call another mental health expert today. Moussaoui pleaded guilty to capital murder last year, and this trial will determine whether he remains in prison for life or is executed. He has testified that he was to pilot a fifth hijacked plane on Sept. 11, 2001.
As the sentencing trial nears an end, the final skirmish clearly is shaping up over Moussaoui's mental capacity.
Moussaoui seemed to recognize this yesterday. When the jury took a break and filed out of the courtroom, he cried out: "Crazy or not crazy, that is the question."
Lawyers for both sides told the judge that the court battle over Moussaoui's mental state will delay a verdict this week, and U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema tentatively scheduled closing arguments for Monday.
Amador, an expert on schizophrenia whose brother suffers from the disease, said he examined Moussaoui for an hour in his jail cell in June 2004.
When he arrived, Amador said, wet paper towels were strewn around the cell floor because Moussaoui had been spitting water at guards. Moussaoui was sitting facing a wall, Amador said, and talking to himself. He was nodding and muttering, "I have the right to protect myself, praise Allah," Amador recalled.
Amador, standing outside the cell door, attempted to start a conversation. Moussaoui told him to go away. Fifteen times he filled his cupped hands with water, drank and then spit at Amador. Finally, he sat on his bunk.
"He felt depressed and resigned," Amador said. "He said, `You cannot help me. Go away.'"
Amador, who emigrated from Cuba, added: "He called me an American Jew. He said, `My job is to kill you so I can enter paradise.'"
But Amador said that, finally, they did talk, and Moussaoui told him at length how he expects President Bush to set him free before he leaves the White House in January 2009.
"He believes it with 100 percent absolute conviction," Amador said.
He said Moussaoui alleged that the FBI had planted a listening device in an electric fan he once owned in Oklahoma. Moussaoui said that if the authorities would just take his story seriously, they would release him immediately, Amador said, and predicted that at some point he would be exchanged for American hostages.
"He's said it hundreds of times -- that Bush will release him," Amador said.
Richard A. Serrano writes for the Los Angeles Times.