ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The courtroom screen showed a tiny girl, only 2½, with long, dark hair, in a red dress that flowed to her ankles. Around her neck was a long blue ribbon attached to an object hanging below her knees.
A burly, balding man in uniform — James Smith, a 21-year veteran of the New York Police Department — explained to jurors Thursday in the sentencing trial of al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui that the girl was his daughter, Patricia, on Dec. 4, 2001.
“That was Valor Day, when the New York Police Department hands out medals,” Smith said in a wavering voice. “She’s wearing the medal they awarded Moira, the department’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor.”
Moira — his wife and Patricia’s mother — also was a police officer. On Sept. 11, 2001, she was bringing a woman with asthma down from the third floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center when it collapsed on them.
A stricken-looking female juror pulled out a tissue and wiped her eyes. The lip and brow of the man in front of her in the jury box quavered; he appeared near tears.
Then the cop wiped his own eyes.
The stories and photos of four young children, all of whom lost parents in the Sept. 11 attacks, brought witnesses to tears and visibly affected jurors as the second phase of Moussaoui’s death penalty trial began Thursday.
The 37-year-old Frenchman pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings. On Monday, the jurors ruled him eligible for the death penalty even though he was in jail in Minnesota on 9/11. They ruled that lies he told federal agents a month before the attacks led directly to at least one death that day by keeping agents from identifying and stopping some of the hijackers.
Now they must decide whether Moussaoui deserves execution or life in prison.
Prosecutors played videos of two hijacked jetliners hitting the gleaming World Trade Center towers. They showed videos of people plunging more than 80 stories to their deaths and punctuated their presentation with family photos of loved ones.
Each hour the emotional impact grew.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani retold the now-familiar tale of his own harrowing experience in debris-choked lower Manhattan on Sept. 11. But it was not until he spoke of the daughter of one of his closest aides, Beth Petrone Hatton, that Giuliani’s voice quavered and broke. Firefighter Terence S. Hatton — who earned 19 medals in 21 years — died without knowing his wife was pregnant.
One female juror looked stricken. The rest hung motionless on Giuliani’s every word.
Full attention to Giuliani
Even Moussaoui, who had affected a look of boredom during the showing of video of falling bodies, watched the ex-mayor intently as he described Terry Hatton, who was born May 15, 2002. Her picture with Giuliani flashed on the screen.
“Terry’s going to grow up without a father ... without a very special father,” Giuliani said. “You can’t replace that. ... There’s no way that money, camps and scholarships, which is very important and which we raised, can replace that.” Members of the courtroom audience dabbed their eyes with tissue and sniffled.
Then came retired firefighter Anthony Sanseviro, whose co-worker and friend Danny Suhr died after he was hit by a body falling from one of the towers: “It was like a missile coming in.”
Sanseviro said he and Suhr had walked by “little pieces of body parts, a torso, a huge piece of an airplane, people running down the street, debris, papers floating in the air,” according to NBC News.
As a photo was shown of Suhr with his daughter, Briana, Sanseviro described how Suhr’s wife and childhood sweetheart, Nancy, has struggled to bring her up without him.
He was followed by Smith, who said of his wife:
“Moira was a gung-ho police officer, who took chances and made a lot of arrests, until Patricia was born. She went from street narcotics to community policing. She decided that she wanted to be a mother even more than a police officer.”
Asked to describe his daughter’s loss, Smith replied in a quavering voice: “The loss to Pat ... I can’t begin to describe ... all the things she’ll never be able to do with her mother, the first day of school, the relationship with her mother....”
An Nguyen was 4 when his father, Khang Nguyen, was killed at the Pentagon. Prosecutors showed a picture of the boy at the Pentagon gates a few days after the attack, looking for his dad.
“He became heartbroken, quiet,” said An’s mother, Tu Nguyen. “My husband was my son’s entire world.”
When told his dad was in heaven, An said he wanted to become an astronaut, “so he can go into space and look for his daddy,” she told the jury.
Another witness, Tamar Rosbrook, who was staying with her husband at the Millennium Hotel next to the World Trade Center, described going into the street after the planes hit.
Body alarms going off
They heard “cars exploding and a strange chirping sound coming from every direction.” She later learned that was the sound of body alarms carried by New York firefighters; the alarm sounds if the wearer stops moving, so rescuers can find downed firefighters.
Later, jurors heard the voice of lead hijacker Mohammed Atta aboard the jet that hit the first tower in New York. In a broadcast intended for passengers but mistakenly transmitted to air controllers, Atta said, “We have some planes. Just be quiet, and you’ll be OK.”
The brother-in-law of a Sept. 11 victim testified that his sister committed suicide a month after her husband, Vamsi Pendyala, was killed on the plane Atta hijacked. Chandra Kalahasthi read to the jury the suicide note written by his sister, Prasanna: “I want to be with my loving hubby.”
Leaving court at day’s end minutes later, Moussaoui shouted, “No pain, no gain, America.”
Prosecutor Rob Spencer braced jurors for the painful testimony coming over the next few weeks.
He read the transcript of a 911 tape that will be played later. A woman on the 83rd floor of the second tower to fall said, “We’re on the floor, and we can’t breathe.... I don’t see any more air. ... I’m going to die, aren’t I?”
Prosecutors also will play the cockpit recordings from United Flight 93, which crashed into a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, after passengers fought back against the hijackers. The tape has never been heard publicly.
“You cannot understand the magnitude of that day unless you hear it from the victims themselves,” Spencer said.
Family history of mental illness
Defense lawyer Gerald Zerkin said both Moussaoui’s sisters are paranoid schizophrenics and his father is very troubled and may be schizophrenic as well. Noting the disease is inherited, Zerkin plans to call a doctor to testify that Moussaoui suffers from a mental illness that probably is schizophrenia.
Zerkin acknowledged that testimony about the impact on victims will be overwhelming. He urged jurors to “somehow maintain your equilibrium. ... You must nevertheless open yourselves to the possibility of a sentence other than death.”
Zerkin described how Moussaoui grew up with little religious training and fell under the influence of radical Muslims when he traveled to London in hopes of becoming a businessman.
Spencer countered: “It was his choice to become a terrorist, and it was a choice he was proud of.”
NBC News contributed to this report.