Horror Takes the Stand At the Moussaoui Trial

Diane DeCarlo, left, and Patricia Foley, who each lost a relative Sept. 11, 2001, leave the courthouse in Manhattan after watching closed-circuit coverage of the proceedings in Alexandria.
Diane DeCarlo, left, and Patricia Foley, who each lost a relative Sept. 11, 2001, leave the courthouse in Manhattan after watching closed-circuit coverage of the proceedings in Alexandria. (By Louis Lanzano -- Associated Press)
By Jerry Markon and Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 7, 2006

Tamar Rosbrook tried her best to remain stoic yesterday as the television monitors showed person after person jumping from the World Trade Center and aiming for an awning in the plaza below.

She tried to narrate the video she shot Sept. 11, 2001, so the jury could understand what happened that day. But as prosecutors pointed out the body parts and the people on fire, she -- and many of those in the courtroom -- lost it. The sobs were uncontrollable and contagious.

This was the day prosecutors had promised since the first day of the death penalty trial of al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. The day when the horror of Sept. 11 was the government's main witness.

The testimony of Rosbrook, who was staying at a hotel near the twin towers that day, was the emotional peak of an emotional day. A day on which jurors saw people choosing to jump to their deaths rather than stay inside the trade center. Witness after witness -- children who lost their parents, police officers who lost their partners and a mayor who was worried he'd lost his city -- spoke of the jumping, the desperation.

"That was a man on fire as he fell through the canopy. Those are the remains of his body," Rosbrook testified in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

A former New York City firefighter spoke of seeing his close friend die after he was hit by a falling person -- and he spoke of the body parts he saw on the streets as the towers were aflame. A New York City police officer broke down as he remembered his wife, also a police officer, who died evacuating people from the burning buildings.

Jurors even heard from the most famous New Yorker of all, former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who turned heads as he strode into the courtroom but offered the same heart-rending testimony as everyone else, recalling how he ran for his life as debris rained down around him.

"It was the worst experience of my life," Giuliani told the rapt jurors as he testified next to a scale model of the towers. "It meant the loss of friends I can't possibly replace. . . . Every day, I think about it; every day, a part of it comes back to me. It can be the people jumping, the body parts, seeing a little boy or girl at a funeral."

Through it all, family members of Sept. 11 victims remained mostly stoic as they sat in court, wiping away an occasional tear or silently shaking their heads. A member of Moussaoui's defense team had tears in her eyes. A court clerk placed several boxes of tissues in the jury box during a break in the proceedings.

Moussaoui, the only person convicted in the United States on charges stemming from Sept. 11, had a different reaction. If he wasn't looking bored or glancing at the clock, he was smiling -- especially when prosecutors played more than 10 video clips that showed the hijacked planes hitting the towers and the buildings burning and crashing to the ground.

And when his attorney offered condolences to Giuliani for "the many losses you have suffered," Moussaoui furiously shook his head.

Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with al-Qaeda in the attacks on the trade center and the Pentagon. After a three-week sentencing trial, jurors on Monday found him eligible for the death penalty. The same 12 jurors returned to court yesterday to start the final phase of the sentencing trial, after which they will vote on whether Moussaoui should be put to death.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company