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Families’ hope for answers at 9/11 trial unfulfilled

L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service

WASHINGTON – Eleni Kousoulis carries a glossy photograph of her sister, Danielle, who was killed at the World Trade Center on Sept.11, 2001. She brought it to the seventh-floor courtroom of U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., this week when she and her mother, Zoe, made the trip from their home in Merion, Pa.They had watched some of the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui on closed-circuit television in the courthouse in Philadelphia – where only a few people have come each day – but wanted to see Moussaoui in person and feel what it was like to sit a few feet away from him.”It was emotional at times, especially when you see him smiling and laughing,” Kousoulis said.Moussaoui has pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaida in the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, and the government is seeking his execution.The prosecution rested its case Thursday. For the families that have been watching the trial or keeping track of it, the process has been painful, frustrating and, sometimes, unsatisfying. What many of them were looking for, besides justice, was information about the day their loved ones were killed or injured and what the government could have done to prevent the attacks.”There was one young lady I was talking to in court one day, and she was saying that the government is on trial as much as Moussaoui,” said Abraham Scott of Arlington, Va., a regular spectator whose wife, Janis, died in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. “And in a sense she was right. They are both on trial.”Family members interviewed Friday said they thought that prosecutors had a difficult case to prove – that the Sept.11 attacks could have been prevented had Moussaoui not lied when he was arrested by the FBI in August 2001. Some were angry at Carla J. Martin, a lawyer with the Transportation Security Administration whose coaching of witnesses prompted key testimony from Federal Aviation Administration employees to be disallowed.”I’m not satisfied,” said Rosemary Dillard of Alexandria, whose husband, Eddie, was also on the plane that hit the Pentagon. “I was definitely expecting more information to come out at the trial. It is still not a clear picture. It is very blurred for me.”Others gave the prosecutors credit.”I think they did the best they could with what they had,” said Kousoulis, a lawyer with the federal public defender’s office in Delaware.She said that she welcomed Moussaoui’s promise to testify; he could take the stand as early as Monday. “I would love it,” she said. “I think he would be stupid to testify, but I would love him to get on the witness stand, love to hear what he had to say to see if he could give us more information than what we have now.”Congress and U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema designated federal courthouses in Boston, Newark, Philadelphia and New York and on Long Island, N.Y., where families can watch the trial. In addition, a courtroom in Alexandria has been set aside for viewing the broadcast. Only family members with special passes are allowed in, so it is difficult to gauge the turnout.Zoe Kousoulis said that in Philadelphia, attendance had ranged from a half-dozen people to one or two.The half-dozen people who gather daily to watch the trial in U.S. District Court in Boston have come up with a name for themselves.”The Usual Suspects,” said Blake Allison of Hanover, N.H., whose wife, Anna Allison, was killed on American Airlines Flight 11, which struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center.Allison said he thought the prosecution was hurt by the testimony of FBI agent Harry Samit, who said that he sent reports to FBI headquarters with more than 70 references to Moussaoui as a terrorist and that the FBI declined his requests to open a criminal investigation or get a search warrant.”I have felt from the outset that Moussaoui didn’t deserve the death penalty for his role in this because I did have doubts about his relationship to the events of Sept.11,” Allison said. “And the prosecutors have done nothing to alter my opinion. … I was hoping that this would bring to light information that would put the events into a more clear light, and I am very disappointed that that has not happened.”He said that the elimination of some of the FAA testimony gutted half of the prosecution’s case and prevented the families from hearing what the FAA would have done, or did, to prevent the attacks.Cathie Ong-Herrera, whose sister, Betty Ong, was a flight attendant on Flight 11, traveled from California to Alexandria during the first week of testimony and has been following it closely in news reports.She said Martin damaged “the prosecution case and kept it from going the way that it was supposed to go. For the families, I think I have to say that we were hoping to learn more than we already know, and she hurt the case as far as helping us get more information.”Sheila Langone, whose two sons – a firefighter and a police officer – were killed at the World Trade Center, said she feared that Martin’s misstep will spare Moussaoui’s life.”I am of the opinion right now that he will not get the death penalty,” she said. “I think that little screw-up kind of messed things up. I would hope that it wouldn’t affect it, but I think it will.”She said the trial proved to her that “there is an awful lot in our government that needs to be straightened out. The FBI doesn’t talk to the CIA, and the CIA doesn’t talk to anyone else.”


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