Giuliani, others recount agonies of Sept. 11 attacks

Former N.Y. mayor among first to testify as Moussaoui trial resumes

April 07, 2006|By RICHARD A. SERRANO | RICHARD A. SERRANO,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The government opened the final stage of its quest to execute Zacarias Moussaoui by presenting testimony yesterday from the man who came to symbolize America's resilience in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Giuliani, in recounting his own experience as he rushed to the scene before the World Trade Center's twin towers collapsed, became the first of almost four dozen witnesses the government plans to call in order to re-create for jurors the agonies of that day.

"Every day, I think about it," Giuliani said. "It can be a person jumping or seeing body parts, seeing a little boy or girl at a funeral, and then I also try to remember all the wonderful heroism the firemen and the police showed that day."

Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty last April. On Monday, the jury decided that he was directly responsible for at least one death in the attacks and is eligible for execution. Now, prosecutors hope to convince the same jury that he should be put to death, arguing that the 2001 attacks could have been prevented if Moussaoui had told investigators what he knew about the al-Qaida plot.

In addition to Giuliani, government lawyers presented the first in a series of other witnesses - ordinary citizens who became witnesses to a nightmare as well as members of the police and fire units that responded to the attack and were swept into its vortex.

"Al-Qaida turned those buildings into slaughterhouses," lead prosecutor Robert A. Spencer told the jury in his opening statement.

Defense attorney Gerald Zerkin, in his opening remarks, urged the jury to consider Moussaoui's tortured mind, saying the defense will present expert testimony about his troubled childhood, his recruitment by Muslim extremists in England, and the mental illness and schizophrenia that run through him and his family.

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."

Throughout the day, Moussaoui showed little emotion. While victims cried, he smiled or yawned.

He barely acknowledged Tamar Rosbrook's tears as she described watching victims leap from the burning top floors, trying to land on a small white canopy in the trade center courtyard. He was unmoved when former firefighter Anthony Sanseviro, twisting in the witness chair to calm his nerves, methodically told of finding body parts strewn on the ground and then realizing his co-worker and friend Danny Suhr had been killed by a falling body.

Unlike most witnesses, who were given specific questions, Giuliani was afforded wide latitude to describe how he left a midtown Manhattan breakfast and rushed to what came to be known as Ground Zero.

When he reached the streets below the burning towers, he said, he was horrified at the falling bodies. "It froze me," he said. He saw two people jump holding hands. "Of the memories, that one comes to me every day."

He found Fire Chief Pete Ganci and asked whether they shouldn't get helicopters to make rescue runs on the top floors. The chief told him that the fire was too hot, that helicopters would "explode." Ganci died when the towers fell.

He later saw the Rev. Mychal Judge, the Fire Department's chaplain, heading for the scene. "You've got to pray for us," Giuliani said he called out to Judge.

"Don't worry, I always do," he responded. Soon after, the Franciscan priest was dead, Giuliani said.

But it was not until he spoke of the nearly 4-year-old daughter of one of his closest aides, Beth Petrone Hatton, that Giuliani's voice quaked and broke. Firefighter Terence S. Hatton died without knowing his wife was pregnant.

One female juror looked stricken. The rest hung motionless on Giuliani's every word.

Even Moussaoui watched the former 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." Giuliani aides in the courtroom dabbed their eyes with tissue and sniffled.

The day's last witness was Chanda Shekhar Kalahasti of India. He told how his sister, Prassana, had moved to Los Angeles with her new husband, Vamsi. He died on one of the planes bound for Los Angeles. A month later, she hanged herself at their home. Kalahasti flew to Los Angeles and found a note she left.

"To my dear brother," it began. "I am extremely sorry for what I've done. ... I know I am being selfish but try to understand. I can't live without him."

Kalahasti left the courtroom in tears. Leaving court minutes later, Moussaoui shouted: "No pain, no gain, America."

Richard A. Serrano writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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