Three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the world's attention turned to Alexandria when Zacarias Moussaoui and then John Walker Lindh were flown to Virginia to face high-profile trials in the federal courthouse just off Duke Street.
New barriers and armed marshals suddenly appeared as security was ratcheted up. Way up. Construction workers scurried inside to renovate two courtrooms to accommodate high-tech evidence and the closed-circuit televising of the trials to the victims. And the last patch of green space in front of the courthouse and nearby Carlyle Towers condominiums was dug up, fenced in and graveled over so that the media might have a place to park their mammoth satellite trucks and trailers.
That was then.
More than $3 million later, Lindh has pleaded guilty and won't be going to trial. And Moussaoui's case has grown so complicated that the White House is considering whisking him off to a military tribunal and ending the criminal case against him.
Lots of preparations -- and possibly no trials.
No one in the courthouse, the city of Alexandria or the U.S. Marshals Service is regretting the rapid expenditure of big bucks to prepare for the Lindh and Moussaoui trials. "Absolutely not," said Edward A. Adams, the spokesman for the district court. "We've long wanted to install a permanent evidence presentation system, and we would have done that anyway. This just allowed us to do it more quickly."
Two high-tech courtrooms were built at a cost of $1.2 million and feature small flat-screen televisions on the desks of the attorneys, the judge, the clerks, the court reporter, even the witness. In the "Moussaoui courtroom," two 42-inch flat panel plasma screens were installed in the walls along each gallery, so audience members could see the same documents.
Both the Lindh and Moussaoui courtrooms also have 50-inch screens for the jury, and the jury box in Moussaoui's courtroom was expanded to 18 seats, to accommodate more alternate jurors.
The Moussaoui courtroom also has a camera built into the back wall to televise the proceedings to an overflow courtroom across the hall (with more 50-inch screens) and on closed circuit to victims around across the country. Both courtrooms have fully wired, unmovable podiums with screens that allow attorneys to diagram and point, much like a sports commentator highlighting players on the field.
The streets around the courthouse gradually took on a new appearance, with parking largely eliminated and parts of one street closed completely. Concrete "jersey walls" went up around the courthouse guard booths, and hydraulic barriers were implanted, U.S. Marshal John Clark said.
The estimated cost of the new security was about $1.5 million.
Alexandria estimated its costs so far as "hundreds of thousands" of dollars, spokeswoman Barbara Gordon said, and the city hopes to get some reimbursement either from the federal government or from news organizations for the new parking lot it built and fenced in for the media.
"But it's a lot more than just dollars. It's adjusting, it's quality-of- life issues," Gordon said, noting as one example that bus routes and commuter traffic near the courthouse have been changed.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty made no apologies for prosecuting the cases in Alexandria. "America's criminal justice system is a vital component in our country's war on terrorism, and the Eastern District [of Virginia] must be and is ready to do its part," McNulty said.