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9/11 families testify in Moussaoui's defense

By Phil Hirschkorn



September 11 attacks
Al Qaeda
Zacarias Moussaoui

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Relatives of people killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, told jurors deciding the fate of al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui how they have overcome rage and fear with hope.

Testifying in Moussaoui's defense at his sentencing trial, the 9/11 witnesses spoke of coping and of honoring the memory of loved ones through scholarships and good deeds.

The witnesses, like others that came before them, were not permitted to offer opinions about whether or not Moussaoui should be executed. Not one even uttered the defendant's name in court.

Their sense of loss was just as great as that of prosecution witnesses, but their testimony struck a muted contrast to the heart-wrenching stories of those other 9/11 families.

Anthony Aversano grew up estranged from his father, Lou, a Manhattan executive, after his parents' divorce. He reconciled with his father in a phone call on September 11, 1999.

"We had a lifetime of relationship in a couple of years," Aversano testified.

After the September 11 attacks, Aversano said he learned to overcome his negative feelings.

"How I fight the terror in me is to live my life well," he told the jury. "If I let myself succumb to the fear, that will lead to fear and anger and hatred," he said. "Not only were planes hijacked that day, but my life was gonna be added to the list of casualties."

Celebrating a life

Donald Bane, an Episcopal priest, lost his son, Michael, 33, who was working for insurer Marsh and McLennan, on the north tower's 100th floor, when the first plane struck on 9/11.

Bane said it took him a while to sort out his feelings of rage and revenge.

He has initiated dialogues between Christian and Muslim groups and plans to name a colt after his son. The family has also endowed a scholarship, Keep The Music Going, at Michael's alma mater, SUNY-Stoneybrook.

"Every day we miss him," he said. "To do things that promote a celebration of life, whether a colt, or Keep The Music Going, or people talking to each other and trying to solve their problems without killing each other, that's what I think our lives ought to be about," Bane said.

Marilynn Rosenthal lost her son, Josh, 44, a financial analyst for Fiduciary Trust, in the Trade Center's south tower. She said her family also refuses to succumb to the pain.

"We're not going to get caught up in a whirlpool of frustration and sadness and anger," she said.

Rosenthal, an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan's medical school, told jurors her family has endowed a public policy lecture series named after her son at the school. She also is writing a book about coming to terms with the attacks.

"We feel something good has to come out of it," Rosenthal said.

Officer's last day

Patricia Perry's son, John, 38, was a police officer who was quitting the force on the morning of September 11, 2001. A cop who was a proud member of the American Civil Liberties Union, he wanted to put his law degree to work.

Perry had had the acting bug and was often an extra in uniform on the soap opera "One Life To Live." He was literally handing in his badge at NYPD headquarters in Lower Manhattan when the twin towers were hit.

"He said, give me back my badge, I'll return, and we'll finish this," his mother testified.

Perry was among the 23 NYPD officers killed trying to rescue others. NYU Law School now gives an award in his name to the student who shows the most dedication to civil liberties.

Robin Theurkauf, whose husband, Thomas, 44, was a financial analyst for Keefe, Bruette and Woods in the Trade Center, said she and her three sons were heartbroken at his death.

"It's a hard thing to come to accept and to come to manage," she said. "We did as many fun things that we could to keep ourselves together."

His boys were 9, 11 and 12 when he died. "I am glad they were old enough to remember their father," she said.

More families to testify

Orlando Rodriguez's son, Greg, 31, was among the 658 employees killed working for Cantor Fitzgerald brokerage firm on five floors atop the Trade Center's north tower.

"He was a person who could talk to anybody under any circumstances," Rogriguez said. "He had a talent for looking at people as human beings regardless of their faults."

More September 11 families are expected to appear on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, jurors heard from mental health and cult experts. (Full story)

Moussaoui is the only person tried in this country in connection with the September 11 attacks. The 37-year-old French citizen pleaded guilty to terrorism conspiracy a year ago.

Jurors, who already have held Moussaoui responsible for at least some of the nearly 3,000 deaths on 9/11, will decide whether he should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Some 9/11 families have said publicly that they don't want Moussaoui to receive the death penalty because it would make him a martyr.

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