WASHINGTON – Faced with the question of whether to execute the accused hijacking accomplice who may have helped kill their loved ones, families of Sept. 11 victims are coming up with widely divergent answers.
"I want justice, not revenge," said C. Lee Hanson, who is against capital punishment despite losing three family members.
But Garnet "Ace" Bailey's family supports the death penalty.
These were some of the things prosecutors heard when they began canvassing victims' relatives on whether or not Zacarias Moussaoui ought to face the death penalty. In New York City, Boston and the Arlington, Va. area near the Pentagon, prosecutors are seeking to personalize the stories of victims and their survivors for possible use in the Moussaoui case.
Moussaoui, a French citizen, is the only person so far accused of conspiring to help the Sept. 11 attackers. He is charged with conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, destroy aircraft, use airplanes as weapons of mass destruction and murder U.S. employees. A judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf after Moussaoui refused to respond to the charges.
U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty in Alexandria and prosecutor David J. Novak have written to victims' families, saying about 30 representatives may be chosen to tell their personal stories at the trial. They would testify during the penalty phase if Attorney General John Ashcroft decides to seek Moussaoui's execution in the event he's convicted. Ashcroft has until Friday to notify the court of his decision.
Carie Lemack, president of Families of September 11, said a prosecutor and an FBI agent asked her views Monday in one of the initial interviews with family members of the victims.
Lemack, 26, of Framingham, Mass., said she told her interviewers in New York she needed more time to review the evidence and learn about Moussaoui's motives, if he was involved. Lemack said she and her sister Danielle spent most of the 45-minute interview describing the loss of their mother, Judy Larocque, a passenger on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center.
But if he was involved and is convicted, she had a unique idea about his punishment: Find out what he wants his fate to be, and do the opposite.
"If this guy wanted to die, I don't want to give him what he wanted," Lemack said in a telephone interview.
Interviews are scheduled in Boston on April 8. Prosecutors invited all immediate family members of Sept. 11 victims to come in and talk.
Family members were sent letters asking them to fill out questionnaires about the death penalty if they wished and giving them a phone number to make an appointment.
Katherine Bailey, widow of Ace Bailey, 53, of Lynnfield, Mass., plans to speak to prosecutors, according to her sister, Barbara Pothier. Pothier said her family is strongly in favor of the death penalty.
"You can't strike out, so it's a good thing for Kathy to go in and express her rage," Pothier said Monday from her sister's home.
Bailey, traveling on board United Airlines Flight 175, was director of pro scouting for the Los Angeles Kings ice hockey team.
Hanson, of Easton, Conn., lost his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. He said venting to a government official wouldn't help him with his grieving.
"Talking to other people who were affected is far better," Hanson said.
Christie Coombs of Abington, Mass., whose husband Jeffrey was killed, said if chosen she doesn't know if she could handle participating in the trial.
"I think it would be too emotionally draining for me to sit there in a room with the man who helped plan my husband's death," Coombs said. "I don't think it's something I could handle."
She does plan on following the trial, and families are requesting a closed-circuit viewing, she said.
"I've been following the whole situation pretty closely, when my children aren't around," Coombs said.
Her kids are 14, 11 and 7.
Lemack said her mother, a businesswoman who was flying from Boston to California, was a best friend to her and her sister.
"Our weddings will be sad events, not happy ones," Lemack said. "It's hard to go on with our everyday lives.
"We talked about the fact that she would never have discriminated against anyone for their beliefs. She was very open-minded, and taught us to respect everyone's views. She was murdered for living in a country that allowed that kind of belief."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.