Prosecution Rests at Moussaoui Sentencing Trial

The prosecution rests in the first phase of the Zacarias Moussaoui sentencing trial. Prosecutors, seeking the death penalty, needed to convince the jury that at least one person who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks could have been saved if Moussaoui had told authorities about his involvement with al-Qaida's plans.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Prosecutors rested the first part of their case against confessed terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui yesterday. This first phase of the trial determines whether Moussaoui is legally eligible for the death penalty. The government must show that Moussaoui's lies led to at least one death on September 11th. It's been a tough couple of weeks for the prosecutors and, in some cases, even tougher for the victims' families.

NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.

LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:

Every morning outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, Abraham Scott lines up outside, his coat zipped up and a small bag in his hand. He waits with other family members of 9/11 victims to pass through security.

SULLIVAN: Is it hard to sit through this trial at all? What goes through your head?

Mr. ABRAHAM SCOTT (Husband of 9/11 Victim): Quite a bit. Knowing that what the government could have done, along with Moussaoui, preventing 9/11 from happening again, and I would not be sitting in that courtroom, I would be at work, my wife would be at work, and we'd be together, as a couple.

SULLIVAN: Scott's wife died at the Pentagon. He and a handful of other victims spend their days here watching the trial unfold. For three weeks now, how 9/11 could have been prevented is pretty much all this trial's been about.

Prosecutors have called one witness after another, trying to show how the FBI could have stopped the plot if Moussaoui had confessed when he was arrested. Defense attorneys say the FBI could have stopped the plot without Moussaoui, if they had acted on glaring warnings in the months before the attacks.

That debate was at its most vivid yesterday. Former FBI Agent Aaron Zebley took the stand for prosecutors. For two hours, he described a spider's web of phone, bank, and apartment records. Those records link the hijackers to one another, and to a phone number Moussaoui had written in a notebook. On cross-examination, defense attorney Edward MacMahon countered that the FBI would never have investigated that link.

When former Agent Zebley suggested it would have been easy if Moussaoui had confessed, MacMahon snapped, So the FBI needs a confession from an al-Qaida terrorist in order to start an investigation? Two prosecutors jumped up and objected, and Judge Leonie Brinkema told everyone to quote, "Take a breath."

Afterward, Abraham Scott says sometimes it's hard to know which side to be on. He wants Moussaoui executed, but he says he's also furious with the government for missing so many opportunities to stop the attacks.

Mr. SCOTT: I considered, at that time, this country to be one of the most sophisticated countries in the world. And it really is mind-boggling and it really hurt me, and really has deteriorated my faith in this government, because of what didn't happen on 9/11.

SULLIVAN: Each day, only the first eight family members to arrive are allowed into the proceedings. The rest head off to a large special courtroom, where they can watch the trial on video. But these days, after three weeks of testimony, only five or six people fill the rows of empty benches. Perhaps as a testament to why they have come, most have come alone. Their husbands and wives were killed on September 11th, and at this courthouse, most of them were killed at the Pentagon.

Yesterday, the defense called its first witness. It was a security expert who showed a Power Point presentation on the FBI called Five Missed Opportunities. The biggest one was not searching for two known al-Qaida terrorists the Bureau knew were in the country long before 9/11. The two men, Kalhid al-Midhar(ph) and Nowaz al-Hamsey(ph), flew the plane into the Pentagon that killed Abraham Scott's wife.

Mr. SCOTT: It brings back a lot of the painful memories, but it's a part of the healing process; because this is just going to close one big chapter in my life in terms of getting one terrorist off the street as well as sending him to his, whatever God he believe in.

SULLIVAN: So Scott comes almost every day and sits quietly in the courtroom, his coat and small bag by his side.

Yesterday, on his way out the door, Moussaoui shouted, I will testify whether you like it or not! Scott says that might be the one day he will skip.

Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington.

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