Federal prosecutors want to play the cockpit tape from United Airlines Flight 93 -- in which passengers wrested control of the hijacked plane -- for the jury hearing the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, according to court papers filed yesterday.
In the first glimpses of how the government intends to present the human side of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, prosecutors also asked U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema for permission to have one law enforcement officer from New York use photographs and videotapes of two other planes crashing into the World Trade Center to summarize the attack for the jury. The government also wants to introduce more than 2,800 photographs of victims from the World Trade Center "so the jury properly understands who was murdered instead of merely hearing statistics," the motion said.
Moussaoui, 34, is the only person charged with any role in the Sept. 11 plot, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Now representing himself, he has said he was a member of al Qaeda and loyal to Osama bin Laden but was not a participant in the Sept. 11 conspiracy. Prosecutors have not revealed what evidence they have linking Moussaoui to the hijackers. A grand jury indictment outlines Moussaoui's actions before Sept. 11 and alleges that they were similar to the hijackers', including receipt of money transfers from an al Qaeda operative.
The tape and transcript of the cockpit voice recorder of Flight 93, which crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, has been closely guarded by the government, and the prosecutors' request to play it includes a petition to seal any transcripts of the recording. Relatives of the plane's passengers were allowed to listen to the tape, but they were not given a copy. The government's motion says that Moussaoui and his standby counsel, the appointed attorneys he fired in June, have been given a copy.
Prosecutors also revealed that a private plane, ExecuJet 956, picked up some of the radio transmissions from Flight 93 because they were operating on the same radio frequency. They asked Brinkema for permission to play that tape for the jury, too.
ExecuJet 956 was one of a fleet of small jets available for hire from a company now called Net Jets, a charter service headquartered in Woodbridge, N.J.
In a separate motion, prosecutors say they plan to use videotapes and photos of the World Trade Center attacks during both the guilt and penalty phases of Moussaoui's trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. Novak wrote that the visual aids will be particularly important in the penalty phase, when the government tries to prove that the crime was especially heinous or cruel or involved serious physical abuse to the victims in order to persuade the jury to impose the death sentence.
Prosecutors want to summon New York-New Jersey Port Authority Detective James Wheeler as their "summary witness." The Port Authority owned the World Trade Center, and Wheeler spent much of his 23 years with the authority working there, the motion states.
The government wants to call Wheeler instead of a dozen people to explain what is being shown in the videos and photos. Wheeler was at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, and although he did not see the planes hit the towers, his experience enables him to serve as an explanatory witness, prosecutors said.
Novak points out that in most complicated criminal cases, both sides stipulate to the jury that certain facts are not in dispute. But Moussaoui has not responded to stipulation offers, Novak wrote, meaning prosecutors will have to prove every aspect of the case, including that the attacks occurred.
"The use of Detective Wheeler as a summary witness is particularly appropriate in this case," Novak wrote, "because there is no question that the September 11 attacks happened and these victims were murdered."