Prosecutors seeking Zacarias Moussaoui’s execution introduced gruesome evidence of the horrors of terrorism Tuesday showing pictures of burned and blackened bodies from the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.
Over the objections of defense attorneys and despite warnings by a federal judge that such a strategy could backfire, government lawyers displayed for jurors the most gut-wrenching evidence yet in a sentencing trial studded with one horrific image after another.
The photos were of the attack at the Defense Department, very near where the jurors are sitting. Each picture was displayed for just a few seconds each. They showed mostly intact bodies with facial features still discernible. One torso, covered with white ash, looked more like an ancient statue.
“Burn all Pentagon next time!,” a defiant Moussaoui shouted as he was led out of the courtroom for a lunch break.
The photos were introduced as prosecutors completed their presentation of victim-impact testimony specifically about the about the Sept. 11 deaths at the World Trade Center in New York.
A husband's pleas
Earlier, a Sept. 11 widow wrung out for jurors the emotional residue of terrorism for terrorism’s survivors, telling about her husband’s final pleas for life and describing difficulties their children have had since his death.
Wendy Cosgrove, 48, of Long Island, N.Y., testified about the impact of her husband Kevin’s death when he was trapped on the 105th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Cosgrove said the couple’s oldest son, who was 12 on Sept. 11, has become angry and self destructive and had some scrapes with the law. “He’s very angry and often that anger is directed toward me,” she said.
The couple’s middle child, who was 9 on Sept. 11, has been mutilating herself and is undergoing therapy, she said.
On Monday, jurors heard a 911 tape of Kevin Cosgrove as he told the dispatcher, “I’m not ready to die.”
Much of the tape was muffled and nearly inaudible except at the very end when he screamed “Oh God, no!” and the call went dead.
Judge urges restraint
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema has urged prosecutors to show restraint, but it has proved difficult to blunt the emotional impact as families of 9/11 victims tell their stories to jurors in Moussaoui death-penalty trial.
Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. The jury deciding his fate has already declared him eligible for the death penalty by determining that his actions caused at least one death on 9/11.
The jury also heard from 43-year-old Juan Rivero, a retired Port Authority of New York and New Jersey policeman, who described his rescue efforts at the World Trade Center.
At one point, as the second tower collapsed, he testified he was running from the Trade Center complex toward the Hudson River when the debris cloud engulfed him.
Death by ‘broken heart’
The jury has heard painful testimony from more than 20 witnesses already, but that has done little to inoculate jurors against the emotional impact of each new story that has its own cruel twist on the familiar story of loss.
One man told how his wife and brother by rotten coincidence found themselves in the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001; both were killed. He also described how he can’t bear to see his wife’s identical twin because of the memories that come flooding back.
Elaine Hughes of Long Island, who lost a son on 9/11, testified that her husband wants his tombstone to read “that he died of a broken heart” from his son’s death.
Some jurors have struggled to maintain composure. One asked for a drink of water toward the end of Monday’s testimony after a day in which his face frequently showed the strain of hearing families’ accounts.
Even though he was in jail in Minnesota at the time of the attacks, the jury in the first phase of Moussaoui’s trial ruled that lies he told to federal agents a month before the attacks kept the authorities from identifying and stopping some of the hijackers.
Now they must decide whether Moussaoui deserves execution or life in prison.
Defense lawyers say the jury should spare Moussaoui’s life because of his limited role in the attacks, evidence that he is mentally ill and because his execution would only play into his dream of martyrdom.
Subpoena for Reid
Late Monday, the defense issued a subpoena for would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid, who is serving a life sentence in Colorado after a failed try to blow up an American Airlines flight in 2001.
Moussaoui testified previously that he and Reid were going to hijack a fifth plane on Sept. 11 and fly it into the White House. The defense lawyers, who have tried to discredit their client’s credibility on the witness stand, has said Moussaoui is exaggerating his role in Sept. 11 to inflate his role in history.