Wednesday, December 07, 2005

US seeks to limit 9/11 victims' testimony

WASHINGTON -- Federal prosecutors have proposed scaling back testimony from survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks and of relatives of those who died in the attacks -- testimony that will be used to help decide whether Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States in connection with the attacks, is sentenced to life in prison or gets the death penalty.

In a court filing, the prosecutors said yesterday that they cannot possibly call all of the witnesses who want to testify about the 2001 attacks.

The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and injured thousands more when 19 Al Qaeda hijackers crashed four commercial jets at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania.

''Several hundred victims expressed a desire to testify about the impact of the crime during the penalty phase of this case," the prosecutors wrote. ''The government believes that having several hundred victims testify . . . would both unduly complicate and prolong the proceedings and, therefore, is impracticable."

Instead, the prosecutors are asking US District Judge Leonie Brinkema to approve their plan to call ''a representative sample" of about 45 witnesses to testify about the loss they suffered on Sept. 11.

Lorie Van Auken, whose husband was killed at the World Trade Center, said she is ambivalent about prosecutors' proposal. ''I don't know what it is that they are doing," she said. ''I certainly know that they didn't do a good job of thwarting 9/11, so I don't know if they are going to do a good job of prosecuting 9/11."

Moussaoui, 37, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, has pleaded guilty to six conspiracy charges. He says he wasn't part of the Sept. 11 plot but was in the United States taking flight lessons to prepare for a second wave of attacks.

Jury selection for the penalty part of the case is scheduled to begin Feb. 6 in federal court in Alexandria, Va. Brinkema wants testimony to begin by March 6.

The government ''has made unprecedented efforts to protect the rights of victims," prosecutors wrote. Those efforts have included notifying 8,000 people of every development in the case, prosecutors said. They also said they have told victims about their decision to seek a limit on testimony.

Prosecutors said they plan to present evidence of everyone who died on Sept. 11 by name and photograph. But they want to use only about 45 witnesses ''to convey properly the devastation caused on that infamous day."

They said those witnesses represent a cross-section of victims injured or killed on Sept. 11.

Because Moussaoui has admitted guilt, the jury will only consider his punishment.


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