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Moussaoui jury sees images from Pentagon on 9/11

Photos, survivors' testimony paint horrific scene

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Jurors weighing the fate of Zacarias Moussaoui, the admitted Sept. 11 conspirator, were shown gruesome photographs yesterday of bodies burned inside the Pentagon and also heard from two military officers who crawled almost blindly to safety through falling debris, choking smoke, and searing heat.

Despite Judge Leonie Brinkema's warning on Monday that too much highly emotional evidence could imperil a death sentence on appeal, prosecutors showed the most gut-wrenching evidence yet in a trial that has been studded with horrific images.

These images came from the military headquarters, which is a few miles from the courtroom.

In the third day of testimony from relatives of victims of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the jurors showed little emotion. One man wiped his face with a tissue; on earlier days as many as six of the 17 jurors and alternates did so.

After a three-minute bench conference to argue with the defense over what could be shown, prosecutors displayed photos of a charred body on a blue stretcher, another charred body sitting upright inside a wrecked Pentagon office, several charred bodies piled together inside another destroyed office, and a small torso covered with ash on a blue stretcher. The mostly intact bodies had barely discernible facial features.

Each picture was displayed for a few seconds. Within minutes, the jury left for lunch.

Moments later, with judge and jury gone, Moussaoui shouted to spectators as he was led out: ''Burn all Pentagon next time."

Jurors also heard from two officers who may have been saved by their military training, Lieutenant Colonel John Thurman, who was a major working on Army promotion policies on the Pentagon's second floor on Sept. 11, and Lieutenant Nancy McKeown, who was working on the first floor as the chief weather forecaster for the Navy's top brass.

The impact of hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon sounded like a bomb to Thurman and like an earthquake to McKeown, but they both dropped to the floor and rolled under their desks for cover as light fixtures, ceiling tiles, bookcases, and file cabinets fell.

Both called out to co-workers and groped in the dark as hot black smoke filled the air.

McKeown did not hear a response from the two young sailors in her office; they died that day. Thurman briefly reached two of the five co-workers in his office. One woman held his belt, but neither could follow him crawling through debris. Three of the co-workers died.

At one point, Thurman and McKeown thought they would die.

Having crawled to one door only to find fire on the other side and seeing no easy way to reach the door on the opposite side of the room, Thurman felt he needed a nap. ''That's when it hit me: I'm going to die," he testified, ''and I got very angry. Angry that terrorists would take my life on the same day my parents were getting their first grandchild" from his sister.

''I realized I had to get out. I pushed file cabinets with all of my strength and found an opening," Thurman said.

Having crawled around her office without finding her aides, McKeown said she thought, ''Is this how it's supposed to end?"

''I got angry and called out again. My insides were on fire," she said, but she pushed toward a glimmer of light and rescue.

After a medically induced coma and hospital stay, Thurman said, ''Today, I'm fine. . . . I feel incredibly lucky; nothing fell on me. But there's guilt about getting the lucky break."

McKeown broke down describing how she had taken the body of one aide, Petty Officer Edward T. Earhart, to his family for a funeral.

''Before turning him over, I checked to see his buttons were buttoned and his medals were straight," she said, weeping. ''I stayed until he was buried and I presented the flag" to his relatives.

Sergeant Jose E. Rojas Jr. of the Pentagon police testified that when he and colleagues saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television, they rushed outside in time to see a mushroom cloud of fire over the Pentagon. Racing to the crash site, he could hear ''people inside moaning, groaning, and screaming" and told them to walk through the thick smoke toward his voice at a blown-out window.

He grabbed one man by the hands. But ''he slipped back into the building because the skin came off his hands into my hands," Rojas testified. He had to reach in and dig his hands into the man's hands to pull him out. Rojas and his colleagues pulled nine people out; all but one badly burned woman survived.

Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent, pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with Al Qaeda to fly planes into US buildings. A week ago, the jurors ruled him eligible for the death penalty.

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