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Testimony from 9/11 victims: How much is fair?

In Moussaoui's trial, it can help jurors grasp the full impact of 9/11, say some. Opponents say it encourages jurors to rely on emotion.

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This is the week jurors in the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui saw the face of terrorism up close and personal.

There was nothing pretty about the raw and gut-wrenching images of the 9/11 terror attacks placed on public display in a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Va.

• A father's final cellphone conversation with his son moments before the son's jetliner was deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center.

• Vivid photographs of the charred remains of service men and women at the Pentagon after a fireball of jet fuel engulfed the west side of the building.

• Desperate emergency calls from office workers stranded high up in the burning World Trade Center as they realized they had but moments to live.

The massive violence of that morning almost five years ago is so far from the routine of American life that it has some analysts questioning whether anyone accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks could receive a fair hearing in court.

Much of the debate revolves around the appropriateness of permitting victims to testify about how the crime has affected their lives.

Victim's rights advocates say such testimony helps the jurors gain a broader appreciation of the full impact of an accused criminal's actions. Opponents say graphic testimony from victims can corrupt jury deliberations by encouraging jurors to rely more on emotion than reason.

In addition, analysts say that all Americans to some extent are victims of the 9/11 attacks - including members of the jury who soon must decide whether Mr. Moussaoui, an admitted Al Qaeda conspirator, should be sentenced to life in prison or death.

Prosecutors had selected more than 40 of 800 identified victims and surviving family members to tell their stories to the jury. This was their opportunity to help the jurors understand not only their personal loss, but the enormity of the crime.

"It is really important for the jury to hear that because it is the only way they can get a true sense on a human level of what that person's death means and how much suffering was caused by the perpetrators of this crime," says Mary Lou Leary, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington.

Legal analysts say defense lawyers trying to save Moussaoui's life face a difficult task following the victims' emotional testimony.


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