Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Moussaoui jury shaken as victims' families speak about 9/11

By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The second time Peter Hanson called from the cabin of hijacked United Flight 175 on Sept. 11, 2001, he described for his father a chaotic scene in which a flight attendant had been stabbed to death, panicked passengers were airsick, and his wife and daughter struggled to remain calm.

"I think they are trying to crash this into a building," C. Lee Hanson said Monday, recounting his son's message for a federal court jury. "Don't worry, Dad. If it happens, it will be quick."

Immediately after hearing his son's final words — "Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" — Hanson said he turned to the television and saw the jet carrying his son, daughter-in-law and 2½-year-old granddaughter slam into the World Trade Center's south tower.

The wrenching account offered by the 73-year-old man was part of a cascade of fresh grief that washed through a federal courtroom here as prosecutors continued their appeal for the execution of confessed al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

In vivid detail, 14 witnesses described the loss of sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers. The testimony appeared to deeply shake some on the jury of nine men and three women who will decide whether Moussaoui will be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole.

Moussaoui, the only person charged and convicted in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, showed no emotion during the court session.

Ronald Hans Clifford was on his way to a meeting that morning when he heard the first plane hit the north tower and stopped to tend a seriously burned woman who had fled the building. As he and the woman prayed in a hotel lobby near the trade center, Clifford said, the floor buckled when the second plane hit. The woman died 41 days later. Clifford would learn that his sister, Ruth, and niece, Juliana, were aboard the second hijacked jet. "There is a huge void that will never be filled," he said.

Hanson, meanwhile, described his son and his young family as the center of his world. His granddaughter, Christine, was the youngest victim of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the attacks. In a quiet voice, Hanson described having to retrieve DNA samples from hairbrushes and toothbrushes left at his son's home to assist in the identification of their remains.

Sometime after the attacks, Hanson said he received a call about the recovery of a single bone from his son's body. The bone, placed in a box, was no bigger than a few inches, Hanson told the jury. "I held the small bone in the palm of my hand," he said. "It was all I had left of my beautiful son."

Earlier Monday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema warned prosecutors they were "approaching shaky ground" with the deeply emotional testimony and the possibility that it could threaten the "rationality" of the jury's final verdict.

Prosecutors are expected to wrap up their case Wednesday.

Posted 4/10/2006 11:01 PM ET Updated 4/11/2006 2:26 PM ET

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