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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

An emotional day in Moussaoui trial

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani told a jury Thursday that he rushed to the World Trade Center when the first hijacked plane hit on Sept. 11, 2001 then watched in disbelief as people plunged as many as 100 stories to their deaths, two possibly holding hands.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani told a jury Thursday that he rushed to the World Trade Center when the first hijacked plane hit on Sept. 11, 2001 then watched in disbelief as people plunged as many as 100 stories to their deaths, two possibly holding hands.

Giuliani, the government’s leadoff witness during the final phase of Zacarias Moussaoui’s death-penalty trial, retraced the infamous morning in gruesome detail while sitting beside a model of the gleaming, 110-story towers that were a symbol of New York’s greatness.

“It was horrible _ the worst thing I’d seen in my whole life,” Giuliani said in a halting voice. “You would see parts of human bodies _ hands, legs . . . and seriously injured people being taken out.”

Jurors sat transfixed as prosecutors presented a day of tearful and horrific testimony about a firefighter dying when he was hit by a falling body, a young widow hanging herself after her husband died in one of the plane crashes and small children facing the loss of a parent.

Chief prosecutor Robert Spencer told jurors that they must hear the voices and see the full carnage of Sept. 11 before deciding whether Moussaoui should die for concealing the suicide hijacking plot when he was arrested in Minnesota 26 days earlier.

Moussaoui exuded an air of indifference and, at times, pleasure as the confessed al Qaeda conspirator watched the events of Sept. 11 unfold in videotapes shown on screens throughout the courtroom. He nodded and smiled when a prosecutor recited the death toll of 343 New York firefighters and scores of other law enforcement officers. After watching videos of the planes hitting the towers in balls of flames, he exited for a recess singing “Burn in the USA” to the tune of the Bruce Springsteen hit.

The jury last week unanimously found Moussaoui qualified for the death penalty, concluding that the government could have at least minimized the Sept. 11 death toll if he had told federal agents what he knew when he was arrested. In the second phase of the trial, the jurors must decide whether the nature of the attacks and other aggravating factors outweigh such mitigating factors as Moussaoui’s turbulent upbringing or possible mental illness.

Prosecutors played videotapes of two hijacked jets hitting the Trade Center towers, of people leaping to their deaths to avoid the flames and of the towers collapsing. They flashed color photos of bloody body parts on the ground and pictures of all 343 New York firefighters, 37 Port Authority officers and 23 police officers who died. They played tape recordings of frantic calls from flight attendants aboard two of the hijacked planes and displayed victims’ childhood, graduation and wedding photos.

In his opening statement, defense lawyer Gerald Zerkin told the jurors to expect to be overwhelmed by the carnage, but said they “must, somehow, maintain your equilibrium,” even in the face of Moussaoui’s “utter indifference.”

Zerkin said the defense will chronicle Moussaoui’s childhood, saying he spent years in orphanages in southern France and was prone to recruitment by radical Islamic recruiters when he moved to London.

Zerkin said two defense psychiatric experts will testify that Moussaoui suffers from “paranoid schizophrenia,” two of his sisters are schizophrenic and his father suffers from a mental disorder.

Moussaoui “doesn’t always look like `One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ or a disheveled Unabomber,” he said.

When Moussaoui testifies, Zerkin predicted he will “denounce” such testimony _ behavior that the lawyer said reflects the effects of al Qaeda’s thought control system.

Spencer, the chief prosecutor, told the jury that defense lawyers may present “excuses” for Moussaoui’s conduct, but that “it was his choice to become a terrorist, and it’s a choice that he’s proud of.”

Giuliani described arriving near the Trade Center’s north tower and being told by an aide that people were jumping out of buildings.

“I had a hard time believing that,” he said.

Then his eyes caught a man leaping from the 100th floor, and later saw two people who appeared to be holding hands as they plunged to the ground. “That’s the one that comes to me every day,” he said.

After Giuliani, prosecutors called another eyewitness and the first of 45 family members of victims who will testify into next week.

Tamar Rosbrook, the host of a home improvement program in Washington state, said she awoke to a rumble in her room in the Millenium Hotel, across from the Trade Center, and looked out the window. Weeping, she said that as she slowly focused on the objects falling from the tower she shrieked: “Those are people! That’s a person!” As she watched in horror, she said, trapped victims began to jump in an “organized” way _ in groups of twos and threes, holding hands.

Retired fire fighter Anthony Sanseviro described watching a beloved colleague, Danny Suhr, suffer fatal head wounds when a body fell from the Trade Center and hit him “like a missile.”

Veteran New York police officer James Smith sobbed on the witness stand as he relived the death of his wife, Moira, who was also on the force but had shifted to less risky work after having a baby. On Sept. 11, he said, she hurried to the Trade Center to help evacuate victims and was trapped on the third floor when the South Tower collapsed.

Mike Low, 62, of Batesville, Ark., described his and his wife’s grief over the death of their 28-year-old daughter, Sara, a flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which hit the North Tower.

Low said his daughter’s murder “just stopped my life” and his wife, Bobbie, has gone into “total withdrawal,” cutting off all contact with family and friends and living “a life of pain and pure devastation.”

Chandra Kalahasti, who lives in a small town in India, described the tragic domino effect of Sept. 11 on his family. His sister, Prasanna, had married Los Angeles software engineer Vamsi Pendyala, in 1999. When she learned he was aboard Flight 11, she asked her brother to come to the United States for support, and he did.

Kalahasti said that in October, at her suggestion, he flew to Canada so he could extend his 90-day visa. While there, he got a phone call: she had hung herself on her exercise bicycle.

Choking up, he read her suicide note: “I want to be with my loving hubby once again . . . I can’t live without him.”

Kalahasti said his uncle flew from India to attend Prasanna’s funeral. On the way home, he died of a heart attack.