By Jerry Markon and Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
C. Lee Hanson was on the phone with his son Peter at the moment Peter's plane hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. "Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God," Peter said softly as his dad turned and saw the crash on television. Hanson's granddaughter and daughter-in-law also were onboard the jet.
Harry Waizer was in an elevator high in one of the twin towers when a fireball struck him in the face. "There was an explosion," Waizer, his face and neck covered with red scars, testified in federal court. "The elevator started to shake, then it started to plummet, then it burst into flames."
Inside the trade center lobby, Ronald Hans Clifford prayed with a woman so badly burned her clothes had been singed off. That second, he told jurors in the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, a second hijacked plane hit the second tower. What Clifford did not know was that his sister and his niece were aboard.
They were stories of shattered lives and terrible deaths, and they dominated testimony yesterday at the sentencing hearing of Moussaoui, the only person convicted in the United States on charges stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks. The jury in U.S. District Court in Alexandria is determining whether the admitted al-Qaeda operative, who pleaded guilty last year, will be put to death.
As jurors wiped away the occasional tear and Moussaoui watched impassively, a parade of victims and family members said the horror of the assaults on the World Trade Center and Pentagon is not just about that day but about all the years since. They spoke of little boys waking up in the night calling for their dead fathers, of devastated mothers sleeping in the rooms of their departed daughters, of high school graduations missed and family reunions marked by sorrow.
It was another day of pure emotion at the trial, a day when pictures of little girls in beautiful dresses flashed on television screens with scenes of Christmas celebrations grown sad. One of those little girls was Hanson's granddaughter, Christine Lee, who died with her father and her mother, Sue Kim.
She was, at 2 1/2 , the youngest person killed Sept. 11.
Yet some of the most emotional moments came when prosecutors -- who were warned by the judge early in the day to tamp down the emotions so they wouldn't prejudice the jury -- stopped asking how people died and instead focused on the extraordinary lives they lived.
Lashawn Clark recalled how her husband, Keefe, an executive chef working on the 96th floor of the trade center Sept. 11, wrote her poetry and prepared her surprise gourmet meals, lay rose petals at her feet and gave her manicures, pedicures and massages "just because."
"I miss the pampering. I miss the love," she said, her voice breaking. "I miss his smell, I miss his touch. I miss the conversations, I miss him finishing my sentences. I miss the just becauses."
Her testimony prompted Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. Novak to say that he would "contemplate what a terrible husband I've been after hearing that story." That drew appreciative laughter from many who seemed to crave the rare moment of levity.
There was no laughter when Mary Ellen Salamone, crying as she entered the courtroom, took the stand. She painted a different marital portrait, saying she and her husband, John -- who worked for the Cantor Fitzgerald brokerage firm on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center -- did not represent the typical "9/11 story."
Sobbing from the witness stand, Salamone said she and her husband went through many ups and downs, and "as fate would have it, he died in the middle of a not-so-good" phase. She said she called John "a million times" that morning but never got through. "I was so desperate to talk to him and tell him I loved him before he died," she said. "In death, I did not get John. I got a body bag seven months later that I had to say goodbye to in the basement of a refrigerated mortuary or morgue, and I had to try to find peace with that."
In a trial with many twists, the latest came late yesterday when Moussaoui's attorneys, trying to discredit their client, issued a subpoena for "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. Moussaoui had testified several weeks ago that he had been planning to fly an airplane into the White House on Sept. 11 and that Reid was to be part of his hijacking team. Defense attorneys have told the jury that Moussaoui was lying.
It was unclear whether prosecutors would try to challenge the subpoena and whether Reid, who is serving a life term for a separate attack in which he tried to blow up a transatlantic flight with a bomb hidden in his shoe, would take the stand.
The emotions of the day were matched by its historical importance. Prosecutors played for the jury tapes of two desperate 911 calls made by victims inside the trade center the morning of Sept. 11. It was the first time complete 911 tapes were played in public. New York authorities released partial recordings of 911 calls this month, but they were edited to include only remarks from emergency operators.
In one of the tapes, the frantic voice of Melissa Doi, trapped on the 83rd floor of the trade center, can be heard. "The floor is completely engulfed, and we can't breathe," Doi said on the tape as a picture of her, smiling, flashed on TV monitors in the courtroom. "It's very, very hot," she kept repeating.
The call ends with Doi saying: "I'm going to die. I'm going to die, aren't I?"
The trial is expected to make history again today or tomorrow. Prosecutors will play the cockpit voice recording of passengers struggling to take control of United Airlines Flight 93, one of the four planes hijacked Sept. 11, before it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. It has never been played publicly.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said yesterday that only a written transcript of the tape will be made public after it is played in court because three Sept. 11 family members objected to its release.
The day ended with prosecutors playing a second 911 call, synchronizing it with a video of the burning towers. Kevin Cosgrove, trapped high in the trade center with two other men, told an operator who tried to assure him that firefighters were on the way: "It doesn't feel like it. Tell God to blow the wind toward the west. . . . We're very young. We're not ready to die."
Cosgrove said he needed oxygen and begged firefighters to hurry. "Oh God. Oh," he shrieked as the building collapsed.