TOPICS > Politics

Prosecution Rests in Moussaoui Trial

April 12, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: The emotions of Sept. 11, 2001, were on prominent display this week in the courtroom where prosecutors are arguing Zacarias Moussaoui should be put to death.

Abraham Scott’s wife was on board American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the Pentagon.

ABRAHAM SCOTT: Not only sitting in the trial, but also sitting in the room watching the trial, it — it’s just reliving 9/11 all — all over again.

MAN: Oh.

WOMAN: Oh, my God!

KWAME HOLMAN: On Monday, prosecutors began recounting the day of the attacks in detail, playing taped recordings of several 911 emergency calls made from the World Trade Center — one from Melissa Doi, who was trapped on the 83rd floor of the south tower.

MELISSA DOI: And the floor is completely engulfed. We are on the floor and we can’t breathe. And it’s very, very, very hot.

OPERATOR: Everybody, stay calm. Please stay…

MELISSA DOI: I’m going to die, aren’t I?

OPERATOR: No, no, no, no. Say your…

MELISSA DOI: I’m going to die.

OPERATOR: Ma’am, ma’am, ma’am, say your prayers.

KWAME HOLMAN: Another call came from Kevin Cosgrove, trapped on the 105th floor of the south tower.

KEVIN COSGROVE: My wife thinks I’m all right. I called her and said I was leaving the building. We are not ready to die, but it’s getting bad. I need oxygen.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today, prosecutors played the cockpit voice recording, being heard for the first time, from United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Hijackers reportedly planned to fly it into the U.S. Capitol.

The tape began with a voice believed to be that of Ziad Jarrah, the hijacker who became the plane’s pilot, announcing: “Please sit down. We have a bomb on board.”

A struggle then could be heard, followed by hijackers yelling: “Sit down. Sit down.”

Unidentified crew members shouted, “No, no, no,” and: “Please, please, please, don’t hurt me. I don’t want to die.”

Shortly afterward, a passenger urged others to take on the hijackers, pleading, “If we don’t, we die.”

As the struggles continued, there were repeated exclamations in Arabic of “Allah is the greatest.”

Moments later, the plane crashed, killing all 44 on board. Prosecutors finished presenting their evidence this afternoon. Moussaoui’s defense begins its arguments tomorrow.

GWEN IFILL: Only those seated inside the courtroom at the Moussaoui trial today could experience the full effect of hearing those cockpit recordings.

Jerry Markon was there. He’s a reporter from The Washington Post, and joins us from outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Rosemary Dillard was there as well. Her husband, Eddie, died on the American Airlines jet that crashed into the Pentagon.

Jerry Markon, is — as the prosecution — as the prosecution rested today, what kind of impression were they attempting to leave?

JERRY MARKON, The Washington Post: They were attempting to leave a very emotional impression.

This entire phase of the case is about emotion — and, you know, sort of striking, you know, a chord with the hearts of jurors. And — and they obviously did that very successfully, I would say.

It’s not to say what the jury will do. You can never really predict that. But, you know, the cockpit voice recorder today was sort of a good coda to all of this, I think, for them, because it was — it was, indeed, very emotional to hear. And, you know, they’re basically (AUDIO GAP) you know, 9/11 caused a huge amount of damage, and it shattered people’s lives, as Rosemary (AUDIO GAP) talk about better than me.

And, you know, since Moussaoui was — you know, lied to federal agents and was — that was one of the causes of 9/11, according to the jury; therefore, he should (AUDIO GAP) so the argument goes.

GWEN IFILL: All right. I — I want to tell our viewers we’re having a few little technical problems with you, but I want to forge ahead with one other question.

I understand that there was never — that Moussaoui’s name itself was never mentioned during the prosecutor — prosecutor’s case, arguments during the second phase of the case. Is that true?

JERRY MARKON: Not much. In fact, I think you’re probably right. I can’t really think of (AUDIO GAP) now. You know, this — this — I should tell that you this is sort of a common (AUDIO GAP) for a federal death-penalty trial. It’s what known as victim-impact testimony.

It’s been (AUDIO GAP) 15 years after it was authorized by the (AUDIO GAP) And, you know, it’s — it’s common for victims of — of attacks to talk about the (AUDIO GAP) more of them here, because there has never been an attack like 9/11.

GWEN IFILL: Right. Jerry, we are — you’re still breaking up, but I want to turn for a moment to Rosemary Dillard. Your husband was on board the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. You worked as a manager of — of flight attendants as — for American Airlines on that day. What was it like sitting in the courtroom for all of this, this week?

ROSEMARY DILLARD, Wife of Sept. 11 Victim: This entire week has been a very difficult week.

You know, I wish there had been some way for the entire nation to have witnessed what went on in that courtroom, because my life was changed, and almost 3,000 other lives were changed. And you heard the very dramatic testimony of so many of the victims.

But everybody’s life has changed. When you go outside your door now, you — you expect something, or you’re — we’re all constantly or continually looking over our shoulders. When we get on the airplane, we look at people differently, even if you go to the grocery store. So, it’s not just the victims of the — of the three sites that have a difficult time. I think all Americans have a very difficult time.

But, sitting in that courtroom, looking at some of the videos that were shown, my heart went out to the jury, because them having to see that and — and having not been prepared or living it the past four years, you know, some people that were not were not affect — were not directly impacted by it didn’t follow it. And probably — and this is probably the case with most of the jurors that were selected. And it had to have been very, very difficult.

GWEN IFILL: Did you find, listening today to the — the sound of the hijackers on this plane trying to stop the plane from being — from crashing, did that — was that comforting to you, the idea that people tried to fight back?

ROSEMARY DILLARD: You know, it was comforting, but it just left me wondering, did my husband fight back? Did Michele Heidenberger? Did any?

I mean, these other people, we know they had to fight back. We know they were strong people. Chip Burlingame, who was the captain on Flight 77, I mean, you know, he was a — a Naval man. We know all of these people tried to fight back.

But, then, you sit there. And you had — you had asked Jerry, how did — did the trial end? It ended on a very somber note. The prosecutors held up a — a large board with all of the victims’ pictures, aside from 92. And they just showed it for a second. And it had a very solemn effect, a very calming effect.

It was like we were all stuck in time and didn’t know which way we were going to go from there.

GWEN IFILL: Jerry Markon, let me ask you a little bit about what we learned this week. We saw — we have heard so much, we have read so much about what happened on 9/11 and what the investigation has yielded. Did we learn anything new from this very emotional kind of testimony?

JERRY MARKON: I think we probably more confirmed things that we — we already knew.

You know, the — the cockpit voice recorder today was a good example of that. I mean, the basic outlines of story, you know, that these — these passengers sort of seizing control of their fate and, you know, taking over the plane, was — was known.

But, you know, it had never been played publicly before. It had only been played for a few family members. So, I think now, sort of, you know, the — the — the myth of Flight 93, as it goes, you know, became real. And I think there is some significance to that.

I think we probably actually learned more in the first phase of the trial, where a lot of — some new information came out about the FBI’s failures, you know, to prevent 9/11, and some things that the U.S. government, you know, wasn’t able to do with the information that it had, you know, to prevent 9/11.

And, in terms of the emotional stuff, I — you know, it’s — I mean, I wouldn’t say it was necessary new, but it certainly took on a new dimension to actually — you know, certainly for me and for others in the courtroom to actually be sitting there in a courtroom where, you know, 9/11 family members sitting right there, and this, you know, confessed al-Qaida terrorist sort of grinning, or, you know, looking bored much the time…

GWEN IFILL: But, Jerry…

JERRY MARKON: … I think it just put things in a — in a new light.

GWEN IFILL: Jerry, I want to ask you about that.


GWEN IFILL: What was the reaction from the jury, the judge, and Mr. Moussaoui?

JERRY MARKON: Moussaoui’s reaction, it sort of varied by the day. Many days, he — he smiled.

Yesterday, when the attacks on the Pentagon were described in detail, he smiled quite a bit and seemed to be laughing at one point, which, obviously, did not endear him to some of the family members, one of who was — was sort of glaring at him.

But, other times, he has appeared bored. And I would say today was more bored mode, for lack of a better word. He, you know, just sort of wasn’t really listening to the voice recorder, or didn’t seem to be listening. He looked away. You know, there were monitors showing the transcripts throughout the courtroom. He didn’t try to read them.

The jurors have been — I think they have done a remarkable job of sort of being stoic, which probably is their job. You know, once in a while, they will sort of wipe away a tear, you know, and you can certainly see lingering emotion. But, you know, there has really been no sobbing. I think the sobbing has been really more, quite frankly, some of the witnesses themselves, and — and some people in the courtroom watching

GWEN IFILL: Mrs. Dillard, this had to be very difficult for you. Why did you decide to attend this trial?

ROSEMARY DILLARD: I have to see this all the way through.

I think if I, as an American citizen, do not take part in it, this means I — I don’t take part in elections. I have learned a lot. As Jerry said, they’re — the first couple weeks, we learned a lot of things that — that we didn’t know prior to, even through going through the 9/11 Commission.

And I think that I was there to see the process. I was there to see what I want in an electoral, what I want as a congressman, what I need as a president, all the things that we don’t have, and to make certain that we — that wall that was put up, that it’s really down, because I don’t know that it is.

GWEN IFILL: Should Zacarias Moussaoui be put to death?

ROSEMARY DILLARD: I will not answer that. Every family member feels different. And I will go, and I will support whatever the jury has to say.

GWEN IFILL: Jerry Markon, now we get to see his defense. As we watched this last week, he didn’t do a lot of favors for his defense attorneys. What are you hearing is likely to happen now?

JERRY MARKON: He’s apparently about to do the same thing.

He’s — my understanding is, he’s expected to testify again, possibly as early as tomorrow. He has, you know, insisted on that. And, like you said, he basically destroyed much of his own case in the first phase. I mean, he — he talked very calmly from the stand about — literally said he wants to kill every American, and, you know, by implication, including the jury, and talked about slitting people’s throats. He was very matter of fact about it, very — almost methodical.

And, you know, it’s unclear what he will say this time. He might object to some of the mental health evidence the defense is going to present. The defense is putting on some experts arguing that he has schizophrenia, and that that is something the jury should consider.

Mr. Moussaoui apparently has an issue with that. But, whatever he says, I can guarantee you it’s going to be interesting.


Jerry Markon from The Washington Post, and especially Rosemary Dillard, thank you both for joining us.


JERRY MARKON: Thank you.