Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Moussaoui Jury Hears From Grieving Families, and From Victims Themselves

April 2006

(source: New York Times)

The jurors who will soon decide whether Zacarias Moussaoui is to be executed or spend the remainder of his life in prison were confronted on Monday with a steady stream of anguished testimony from surviving family members of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

The prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, presented 15 witnesses, nearly all of whom testified at some point through sobs and tears. By the time the Justice Department ends its case Wednesday, some three dozen such witnesses will have testified as part of an effort to impress on the jurors the enduring pain and grief the terror attacks produced.

Among them was C. Lee Hanson of Connecticut, who spoke about the loss of his son, Peter; his daughter-in-law, Sue Kim; and his granddaughter, Cristine Lee, 2, the youngest casualty of Sept. 11.

Mr. Hanson described talking with his son, who was using his cellphone on one of the hijacked planes, and simultaneously watching events unfold on television. Mr. Hanson said his son told him that he believed the hijackers were "trying to crash the plane into a building," and that he added, "Don't worry, Dad. If it happens, it will be quick."

Mr. Hanson testified that he then heard his son say "Oh my God" three times, and that a moment later, he saw the plane, United Airlines Flight 175, crash into the World Trade Center on his television. He described his anguish when investigators were able to return to him only a small bone fragment of his son.

While the testimony throughout the day produced sadness among the spectators and some jurors, prosecutors presented additional evidence that produced a more chilling effect: the audiotapes of two doomed people trapped in the towers as they pleaded with 911 operators to send help.

Unlike the tape recordings recently released by the New York City authorities, the 2 samples played Monday included the voices of the callers, not just those of the operators.

In one tape, Kevin Cosgrove, 46 and the father of 3, who called 911 from the 105th floor of the south tower, said, "We're not ready to die, but it's getting bad." A moment later, he said, "Oh, please hurry; I've got young kids."

The tape was played for the jury as a photograph of Mr. Cosgrove was displayed on screens in the courtroom, along with scenes of the burning towers synchronized to the time of his call. In the final snippet of conversation, Mr. Cosgrove said, "Oh my God, ohhh," as the tower started to collapse at 9:58 a.m.

The other audiotape was of Melissa C. Doi, 32, a financial manager who worked on the 83rd floor of the south tower. Ms. Doi told the operator that she was with 5 others and repeatedly said, "It's so hot; it's very, very hot."

At one point, she told the operator, "All I see is smoke; I'm going to die."

The operator replied: "No, no, no. Say your prayers."

Unlike what happened in the earlier stages of the tragedy, when 911 operators were rushed and tried to take other calls, in this instance, the operator remained on the phone with Ms. Doi for 4 minutes.

Prosecutors later this week will play the cockpit tapes from United Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers overwhelmed the hijackers. Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ruled Monday that the transcript of the recordings would be made public, but that the audiotapes would not be, as some family members had filed objections with her.

Mr. Moussaoui has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. Although he was in jail when they occurred, this jury has already found that he was responsible for at least some of the deaths that day because he concealed his knowledge about Al Qaeda's plans to fly planes into buildings.

In the current phase of Mr. Moussaoui's sentencing trial, the prosecution is presenting evidence and testimony meant to show that the heinous nature of the crimes of Sept. 11 makes him deserving of execution.

During Monday's testimony, Mr. Moussaoui sat silently and appeared to shed his usual posture of indifference. He paid close attention to many of the witnesses, particularly to Sharif Chowdhury, who could barely be heard as he testified that his faith in Islam had helped him deal with the deaths of his son and daughter-in-law in the World Trade Center. Mr. Chowdhury was the only witness who seemed to make a point of glaring at Mr. Moussaoui when he walked by him.

Defense lawyers had objected in a sealed motion to the prosecution's presentation last week, arguing that some of it was overdramatized, both in the questions to the witnesses and in the parade of photographs of the victims, including children.

Judge Brinkema, referring to the sealed pleading, said that the defense had raised "significant issues" about the appropriateness of the presentation, especially as Mr. Moussaoui was facing a death sentence. She said that prosecutors had not yet behaved improperly, but she asked that they limit themselves to five photographs for each witness.

She also said that last Thursday, a prosecutor should not have asked the brother of a woman who hanged herself after her husband died in the attacks about the fate of their uncle. The uncle died of a heart attack on his way back to India, and Judge Brinkema said there was no way to know why his heart had failed.

Court-appointed defense lawyers, with whom Mr. Moussaoui does not speak, are likely to begin their case on Thursday. They are expected to say he should not be sentenced to death because he is mentally unbalanced and is seeking the martyrdom that execution would provide.

The jury is supposed to weigh the aggravating factors like those presented by the prosecution's witnesses against the defense's mitigating factors, and to choose between death or life in prison. Judge Brinkema is obliged to impose a death sentence if that is the unanimous decision of the jury.

No comments: