The grandfather of the youngest victim of the September 11 attacks, testifying at Zacarias Moussaoui’s sentencing trial yesterday, described watching on television as the plane carrying his son and granddaughter hit the World Trade Center.
The wrenching first-person account of the day’s horrors came the same day that the judge in the death-penalty trial warned prosecutors against relying too heavily on emotional testimony to influence Moussaoui’s jury.
The grandfather, C. Lee Hanson, said his son Peter called from the phone that day. “As we were talking, he said, very softly, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!’”
The 73-year-old Mr. Hanson was describing the moment before he watched the plane become the second to hit the Twin Towers on September 11.
A few minutes before, Mr. Hanson said, his son had told him he thought the hijackers were going to crash the plane into a building. “Don’t worry Dad, if it happens, it will be quick,” Mr. Hanson quoted his son as saying.
Sue and Peter Hanson were on their way from Boston to Los Angeles to visit the grandparents and take their 2-year-old girl, Christine, to Disneyland. Mr. Hanson said the only remains that were found was a bone of his son, a few inches long.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema’s caution to prosecutors came after complaints from the defense attorneys that a stream of victim-impact testimony last week would be overly prejudicial to the jury that must decide whether Moussaoui is to be executed.
Prosecutors told the judge yesterday that they would display fewer family photos and would try to keep testimony from each of the 45 witnesses to 30 minutes.
Judge Brinkema acknowledged that there is no way to avoid emotional testimony in this case, but reminded the prosecutors that overly prejudicial testimony can be grounds for overturning a death sentence on appeal.
“You may pay a price for that down the road,” she said.
Despite her admonition, the testimony remained deeply affecting. Jurors heard a 911 tape from a trapped victim on the 83rd floor of the South Tower, who told the dispatcher, “I’m going to die, aren’t I? Please God, it’s so hot, I’m burning up.”
The first witness yesterday was John Creamer, an assistant principal from Massachusetts, who described the effect of wife Tara’s death on the couple’s two children.
“How do you tell a child their mom is dead and she isn’t coming back?” Mr. Creamer said, fighting back tears.
Wen Shi, who lost her husband, said the couple’s youngest son, Richard, was 2 in September 2001, but remembers his father well.
“I told him, ‘Daddy was in paradise,’ ” she said. She then described how her son took a plane trip to China and looked out the window the whole time in search of his father in the heavens.
Moussaoui was watching the witnesses closely throughout the morning. When court recessed, he said loudly, “Burn in the USA.” During the lunch recess, he said, “Hollywood deadly circus.”