9/11 jury duty poses wrenching questions for New Yorkers

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

NEW YORK -- It was Sept. 12 before Michael Curatola remembered Pablo Ortiz. Watching the people leap from the windows, feeling the earth shudder, Curatola was so immersed in the horror of 9/11 that he failed to register that on the 88th floor of one of the towers was a neighbor -- a friend who, eight years later, would be his reason for wanting a seat on the jury assaying the guilt of the men charged with planning it all.

"Just to get vengeance for my dead friend who's not here anymore," said Curatola, cleaning the lobby of the building next door to the hole where the twin towers once stood, a wound cleaned and tended but still open.

"But that word 'vengeance' sounds too much like a personal vendetta," Curatola added. "I mean justice."

The distinction can be elusive in this city as it tries those accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In announcing this month that five accused plotters, including self-described mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, would be brought from Guantanamo to federal district court in Manhattan, the Obama administration declared that the trials would display not only the crimes, but also the resolute fairness of America's system of justice.

Which was what gnawed at Curatola the longer he thought about it.

"Do you seriously think they can get a fair trial blocks from that hole in the ground?" he asked. "Who are they going to pick for the jury? Everyone was involved, when you really think about it."

Most New Yorkers don't have to think very long.

"Oh, no. No. I have no impartiality," said Laura Stein, 45 and an artist, when asked if she saw herself as a 9/11 juror. "It was the worst day of my life. And I didn't lose anybody. I wasn't even in the area. And still the most fearful day of my life."

"We took it personally," said Sara Martinez, 52, an associate at a Verizon location near Ground Zero. "We don't feel safe anymore, secure anymore. It took away our peace of mind. It took away a lot of things."

In New York, 2,752 people lost their lives. An additional 184 perished at the Pentagon, and 40 more in the Shanksville, Pa., crash of United Airlines Flight 93.

"One of my children is named for someone who was killed in the World Trade Center," said Albert Gregory III, a construction worker from Staten Island. He wore a T-shirt decorated with the names of his six children -- Kristen, now 6, is named after Kristen Montanaro, a friend since childhood who worked in one of the towers. As he spoke, Gregory held a copy of the New York Post rolled in his fist. The day after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s announcement that the accused plotters would be tried in New York, the front page featured a mock postcard.

"Welcome to New York," it said. "Now Die!"

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