9/11 Families to Watch Moussaoui Face Fate

David Yancey, whose wife was on the flight that crashed into the Pentagon, has been preparing himself to attend the sentencing proceedings, hoping for closure.
David Yancey, whose wife was on the flight that crashed into the Pentagon, has been preparing himself to attend the sentencing proceedings, hoping for closure. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 6, 2006

David Yancey is anxious. He's not sure how many days he will last. All he knows is that he must go to court for his wife, Vicki, who was killed Sept. 11, 2001, for himself and for the other families with whom he has formed a bond born of grief and loss.

He wants to get a look at the man who has become the public face of terrorism and listen to the government's case against him. But his emotions remain so raw that he has worked out a plan with his therapist to help gauge his feelings. In some ways, he is more afraid of not going to the Alexandria courthouse, of staying away and then being filled with regret for the rest of his life.

Nearly 4 1/2 years after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, families of the victims and those who survived will finally get their day of reckoning. Today, amid extraordinary security, admitted al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui will be taken from his solitary cell in the Alexandria jail to the U.S. District Court a few blocks away.

Over the next month, 18 jurors whose identities will not be revealed will be chosen to decide whether Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty. If they agree that he is, the government will argue that he should be put to death rather than spend the rest of his life in prison. In each case, the jury would have to reach a unanimous verdict.

It will be the first time the Bush administration lays out in a public courtroom how America's enemies conspired to hijack four jetliners and left nearly 3,000 people dead. Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty in April to conspiring to fly a plane into the White House as part of a broader conspiracy that led to the Sept. 11 attacks. He is the only person charged or convicted in the United States in connection with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Yancey, 50, who lives in Crystal City and is being treated for post-traumatic syndrome, is one of about 1,100 family members who have told the Justice Department that they plan to watch the proceedings. Most will view them on closed-circuit television at one of five satellite locations set up at courthouses in Boston, Manhattan, Newark, Philadelphia and Long Island, N.Y. Not all will be silent observers. Prosecutors plan to call family members to the stand to tell jurors how the attacks have affected their lives.

Some of those who attend as spectators in Alexandria will bring with them a load of anger, while others are hoping to learn what the government knew before the attacks and whether the horror could have been prevented. Some yearn for closure. Many will be looking for justice, others for vengeance for the deaths of their loved ones.

The testimony will take place amid an extraordinary backdrop. Just miles from the Pentagon, scores of reporters from around the world will descend on a courthouse already under extremely tight security.

Yancey has decided to be there when opening statements begin March 6. The sentencing hearing is expected to last one to three months.

"I have gotten to the point where number one, I can do it, and number two, it will give me a sense of closure," Yancey said. "And I think it is important to, you know, be present for it. I have also developed a tight bond with other families, and I will be there to be part of the network. We will be there in support of each other."

His wife, Vicki, was 43, the mother of two teenage daughters, now 19 and 22, an electronics technician and Navy veteran and, on the last day of her life, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77, the plane hijackers crashed into the Pentagon.

There have been more than enough bad days for Yancey and the brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, children and grandchildren of the people who died that day. The families have watched as the attack sites have been searched, first for survivors and then the dead. Over time, the World Trade Center has gone from a pile of smoking rubble to a hole in the ground. The Pentagon has been repaired and rebuilt. The dead have been mourned and buried. And through it all, the families have waited and waited for someone to be held accountable.

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