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.
Although the trial's first phase centered on Moussaoui's culpability for lying to federal agents about the pending al-Qaeda plot and the failure of the U.S. government to stop Sept. 11, the final stage is raw emotion.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Spencer told jurors they would hear the final words of a woman who worked on the 83rd floor of the trade center and who called 911 while huddled on the floor. "The floor is completely engulfed," he quoted her as saying. "We're on the floor, and we can't breathe and it's very, very hot. All I see is smoke. I'm going to die, aren't I? I'm going to die."
"In this part of the trial, you will hear the voices of the victims of September 11, 2001. You will hear the voices of the victims' families," Spencer said.
Defense attorney Gerald T. Zerkin acknowledged the emotional power of the prosecution's case but said he would focus instead on Moussaoui's troubled childhood and questionable mental state. Two doctors will testify about their diagnosis, that Moussaoui suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, the defense said.
"The government's evidence will present an extraordinary challenge for you," Zerkin told jurors in his opening statement. "Nevertheless, you must open yourselves to the possibility of a sentence other than death." If Moussaoui is not sentenced to death, he will automatically receive a term of life in prison without the possibility of release.
Giuliani, who gained fame for his response to Sept. 11 and is a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2008, started the day's testimony by injecting some star power into the prosecution's case. Lines were longer than usual to get into the courtroom, and spectators craned their necks as the former mayor walked in, buttoning his dark blue suit.
Giuliani spoke in his familiar calm and reassuring tones but also offered flashes of humor and his trademark New York intensity. He corrected the prosecutor, pointing out that he had been mayor for two terms, not one. And, asked to describe the World Trade Center's history, he managed to point out within seconds that New York City was "the first capital of the United States" and the place where George Washington was inaugurated as the country's first president.
But it was the testimony of ordinary people that generated the most tears in the courtroom. James Smith, a New York police officer so big and burly that he nearly spilled out of the witness box, sobbed as he described his wife, Moira, also a police officer -- at one time his partner -- and how her death at the trade center has affected his life and that of their daughter, Patricia.
"It," he began and paused to take a deep breath that came out in quiet sobs. "The loss to Patricia, I can't even ever begin to explain. The things she will never be able to do with her mother, the first day of school . . ." His voice dropped off.
Tu Ho Nguyen followed the police officer to the stand. Her husband, Khang Nguyen, a civilian electrical engineer at the Pentagon, died in the attack. On the morning of Sept. 11, she said, her husband ran out of the house after their son's school bus, shouting at him, " 'Say bye-bye to Daddy one more time.' My son looked out the window and said bye-bye for the last time."
Her son, An, now 8, has had severe developmental problems and often shows no interest in his toys or his favorite television shows. She has told her son that his father is in heaven. Now, she said, her son wants to be an astronaut "so he can go to space to look for his daddy."