April 19, 2006

Family of 9/11 victims testify for Moussaoui defense

By Deborah Charles

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (Reuters) - Noble and generous, family
members of September 11 victims overcame anger, rage and a
thirst for vengeance before testifying for the defense on
Wednesday in a trial that will determine if Zacarias Moussaoui
will be executed.

Moussaoui, an admitted al Qaeda member, has pleaded guilty
to conspiracy in connection with the airliner hijackings. The
12-person jury is hearing evidence before deciding whether he
should be sentenced to death or get life in prison.

More than 40 witnesses have already testified about their
loved ones killed on September 11 when planes crashed into the
World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

But they were called to the stand by federal prosecutors
who are trying to convince the jury that Moussaoui deserves
death. Some were survivors who gave graphic descriptions of
their struggle to escape the burning towers, while others were
family members who spoke of the impact loved ones' violent
deaths have had on their lives.

The latest group of family members, however, were
testifying as part of the evidence being presented by the
defense, which is trying to convince the jury to spare
Moussaoui's life.

None of the witnesses on Wednesday said anything to the
jury about how they thought Moussaoui should be sentenced.

But one of the witnesses, Marilynn Rosenthal, whose son
Josh was killed, told reporters outside the courthouse that
said she decided to testify for the defense because she felt it
was her "patriotic duty."

"I don't know I did it for (Josh), I did it because I
thought it was my duty, as an American in a democracy," she
said after testifying. "Mr. Moussaoui is the wrong man to be
... on trial."


Rosenthal, a medical sociologist, earlier told the jury she
decided to learn as much as she could about al Qaeda and the
hijacking plot to better understand what happened that day.

"Everybody ... wants something good and positive to come
out of what happened," she said. "For me that meant finding out
everything. I've spent the last four years doing research for a
book that represents my understanding."

Several witnesses spoke of how they had worked to overcome
anger, rage and desire for vengeance since September 11.

Donald Bane, an Episcopal priest whose son Michael had
worked on the 100th floor of the north tower of the World Trade
Center, said he searched for ways to handle his feelings.

"I tried to think of ways I could learn more and understand
more. I thought what was needed were bridges of understanding
with the people who could do this kind of thing," he said,
explaining that he helped set up one of a series of meetings
between Christians and Muslims.

Anthony Aversano, who reconciled a long dispute with his
father two years to the day his father was killed in one of the
towers, said he learned he had to also deal with his anger over
September 11.

"I saw if I went down the path of wanting retaliation ... I
would giving my life over to them," he said, his voice breaking
on the witness stand. "If I was to succumb to fear, to succumb
to the terror ... I give up my life. I can't possibly have an
open heart and still be afraid or angry or vengeful."

Several more family members of victims are due to testify
on Thursday. The case could go to the jury as early as Monday.