ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (AFP) -New York City, its agony and pride on September 11, 2001, towered over the court where jurors must decide whether Al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui will be executed.
Witnesses, including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, testified under a three-foot (one metre) high model of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, felled in a mushroom cloud of dust and debris after strikes by hijacked planes.
The city’s anguish, related by a fireman, policeman, and in gruesome film clips and photographs of severed limbs and body parts, left watching observers, lawyers, jurors and journalists horrified and dabbing their eyes.
Prosecutors Thursday recreated the terror of September 11 for jurors charged with recommending whether Moussaoui will be put to death for complicity in the attacks, after they found him eligible for execution last week.
Though he is no longer mayor of New York, Giuliani was back in the role as the city’s champion and emotional crutch he played soon after the attacks.
Observers shuddered as he told how he saw people jumping to their deaths from the inferno raging in the top floors of the World Trade Center, chosing swift suicide rather than being burned alive.
“Over the course of time, I saw several people jumping. I remember seeing two people, it appeared to me as though they were holding hands. That one is probably the memory that comes back to me every day,” he said.
“You could see parts of human bodies, hands and legs, a lot of injured … this was a war, this was a battle, we were attacked. This was a battle zone.”
“It was horrid,” he said of the smell in an area reeking of human flesh. “You could smell some of the body parts.”
Prosecutors later showed hideous still photographs of unrecognisable body parts and limbs, looking like pieces of charred meat, scattered around the streets of lower Manhatten.
Giuliani related the story of one of his aides, married to one of the city’s top young firemen, Captain Terry Hatton who was killed along with members of his Rescue Team One unit at the World Trade Center.
“He is gone,” Giuliani said his aide Beth Patrone-Hatton told him, simply, after he walked in off the burning streets of New York, after the twin towers fell.
Giuliani, who said the young fireman was the kind of man he would like as a son, came close to losing his composure when he described how Beth found out, days after September 11, that she was pregnant with the couple’s daughter Terri.
His voice trailed off, as he recalled identifying Hatton’s incomplete remains at a morgue set up in a big marquee.
“I went back and identified him and I, I …..” he said, staring into the middle distance of the courtroom.
Prosecutors interspersed Giuliani’s testimony with film clips of the two planes hijacked by Al-Qaeda which slammed into the World Trade Center’s 110-storey towers.
The pictures, familiar from thousands of airings on television, still drew gasps and grimaces from onlookers in the court.
Jurors also saw amateur video footage of people clearly leaping to their deaths from the flaming top floors of the towers.
One clip showed a flaming body on the ground, and a canopy pockmarked with holes, onto which people had desperately jumped in a bid to break their fall.
One New York City fireman, Anthony Sanseviro, told how his comrade Danny Suhr was hit and killed by a body falling from the top floors of the World Trade Center.
“I heard it coming, a whistle coming in,” he said. “It just seemed like a missile coming in.”
One burly New York cop, James Smith, dissolved in tears on the witness stand, when he told of how his wife, Moira, also a police officer, died as she helped pull people from the burning building.
In one quintessentially New York moment, Smith drew sad laughter, as he related their first meeting, and a clash of loyalties over baseball teams.
“She took my Yankees hat off and threw it across the room … she was a Mets fan.”
Smith said Moira’s murder robbed their daughter, Patricia Mary Smith, now seven, of a mother.
“She remembers some things … playing on the swings, having tea parties … I tell her that her Mom was a hero and that she died while trying to save others.”
Giuliani testified that he is still haunted by the horror, remembering the terrible scenes as the twin towers crashed to the ground.
“It looked like a nuclear cloud that was going through the streets,” he said and recalled how one of the city’s top medical examiner told him that some of the victims would never be found.
“Most people were vaporised, we are going to have to organise arrangements to identify people through stains and DNA,” Giuliani said the officer told him.
“Everyday I think about it. Everyday some part of it comes back to me. I can see a person jumping, see the body parts or see a little boy or girl at a funeral.”