At Satellite Courthouses, 9/11 Relatives Will Watch Moussaoui's Sentencing

Published: March 5, 2006

WASHINGTON, March 4 — When lawyers make their opening statements on Monday in the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui in a Virginia courtroom, Sally Regenhard intends to be in Lower Manhattan. Against the advice of friends, she is planning to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television at the Moynihan federal courthouse, just blocks from where her son died on Sept. 11, 2001.

Sally Regenhard with a photo of her son, Christian. The Moussaoui trial, she said, is "our only opportunity to get a modicum of justice."

Mrs. Regenhard is among more than 500 family members of 9/11 victims who have signed up to watch the first and possibly only trial in the United States of someone charged with direct responsibility for the attacks.

Federal criminal trials are not generally broadcast, but the government has set aside rooms for the family members to view the proceedings in courthouses in Manhattan; Central Islip, Long Island; Boston; Philadelphia; Newark; and in the same building in Alexandria, Va., where Mr. Moussaoui will be tried.

Mrs. Regenhard, whose 27-year-old son, Christian, a probationary firefighter, was killed in the attacks, said her life remained consumed with mourning and efforts to understand what happened that day. Her son graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and was a marine, writer, artist and world traveler, she said.

"The families are focused on this man Moussaoui, this trial, because it is our only opportunity to experience some accountability," Mrs. Regenhard said. "Our only opportunity to get a modicum of justice."

Mr. Moussaoui did not participate in the attacks; he was in prison at the time on immigration charges. Prosecutors have argued, however, that he was part of the conspiracy to fly airplanes into buildings, and that if he had not lied to investigators about his reasons for taking flight lessons, the plot might have been uncovered.

Mr. Moussaoui has said that he is a member of Al Qaeda, despises Americans and was training to fly an airplane into the White House on a different day.

"He's a proxy," said Mrs. Regenhard, who believes it is appropriate to view him as a stand-in for the 19 hijackers who died that day. "If this man would have been called up that day, he would have accepted the assignment in a heartbeat."

David de Vere, who lives in England and whose daughter Melanie died in the World Trade Center, declined an invitation to view the trial as a representative of British citizens who were killed. "Apart from the logistical and cost problems of crossing the pond," he said, he chose not to attend the trial because he did not view Mr. Moussaoui as representing the entire conspiracy.

In an e-mail message, Mr. de Vere said he felt that Osama bin Laden and most of the organizers of the attacks would "never be captured."

"I certainly could never accept Moussaoui as a proxy for the whole," he wrote.

Mr. Moussaoui, a 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan heritage, has pleaded guilty to six counts of conspiracy in connection with the attacks in New York and Washington. As a result, the trial will be solely over whether he is put to death by lethal injection at a federal prison in Indiana or spends the remainder of his life in jail.

Most of the family members interviewed said they did not have strong feelings about which penalty he received.

"What happens to him is of no matter to me," said Jane Pollicino, whose husband died at the World Trade Center. "I've tried to take part in anything that is connected to 9/11."

Mrs. Pollicino, who plans to watch the trial from the Long Island courthouse, said she still had little expectation of escaping what she called a suffocating grief.

"There's no end to this," she said, adding that last month the New York City medical examiner's office returned a toothbrush used by her husband, Steve, that she had turned over for DNA identification purposes. She said her husband's remains were never found.

Lois Diehl, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center, plans to watch the trial from Newark with her 19-year-old daughter. Ms. Diehl said she did not mind if Mr. Moussaoui received a life sentence instead of a death sentence. "I would like him to be in solitary, not watching TV in prison and having a grand old time," she said.

Ms. Diehl said her daughter surprised her by expressing an interest in watching the trial. "She would like to see the man who is partially responsible for her father's killing," she said.

As for her own motives, she said they were difficult to explain. "We used to fall asleep at night holding hands," she said.

Mrs. Regenhard said that she would not mind if Mr. Moussaoui were put to death, but that her son would have believed in showing mercy.

She said her friends had exhorted her not to view the trial, as it would only increase her grief and anger. She will be among about 170 people watching from Manhattan, the largest contingent at any of the sites, and will also travel to Virginia to be in the courtroom, where prosecutors have reserved at least a dozen seats for family members that will be available on a rotating basis.

Mr. Moussaoui's mother, Aisha el-Wafi of France, will also be at the Virginia courthouse. She is scheduled to watch the trial from a separate room with an interpreter who will translate the proceedings into French. Leonie M. Brinkema, the presiding judge, arranged for the room so the translation would not disrupt the proceedings.

One family member who will not attend is Stephan Gerhardt, whose brother, Ralph, was killed in one of the World Trade Center towers. He said he had intended to go but decided "there was nothing I could gain there."

"I hate the word 'closure,' and I wasn't looking for closure," Mr. Gerhardt said. "I was looking to understand a little bit why the hatred is so strong in Moussaoui and others like him."

On Monday, a jury pool of 85 people will be whittled to the 12 who will decide Mr. Moussaoui's fate and 6 alternates. Opening statements are scheduled to begin in the afternoon, with the prosecutor emphasizing Mr. Moussaoui's failure to tell investigators what he knew.

Mr. Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyers, with whom he does not speak, are expected to argue that the government knew a great amount about Al Qaeda's plans and that Mr. Moussaoui's failure to speak was not as important as prosecutors contend.