NEW YORK – Warning a jury that "justice is not done yet," a federal prosecutor Wednesday urged the death penalty for one of four men convicted in the bombing of U.S. embassies. A defense lawyer said he could offer no excuses but "there can be an explanation."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald promised the jury they would in coming days witness the pain that resulted from the Aug. 7, 1998, attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
A day earlier, the same anonymous jury had convicted the four followers of Saudi fugitive Usama bin Laden of a global conspiracy to murder Americans. The simultaneous bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
"Justice is not done yet," Fitzgerald said in his opening statement. "Each of you will be convinced in the end that the only punishment that fits the crime is the death penalty."
He was directing his comments solely toward the case for death against Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owhali, 24. A separate death penalty proceeding was scheduled for later for a co-defendant, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27.
The two other defendants, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, and Wadih El-Hage, 40, face life in prison.
Fitzgerald said he will summon several dozen victims to testify. "You need to understand the pain, the horror and the agony that the bombing put people through," he said.
Defense lawyer David Baugh said he agreed "with the government that you should not forget the victims." He then proceeded to read all of the victims' names.
"I don't think anyone can make an excuse for what happened in this case. There can be no justification," he said. "However, there can be an explanation."
Baugh said Al-'Owhali was indoctrinated into a militant Muslim culture at a very young age and viewed himself as a soldier in a war against the United States. Pointing to his client, Baugh said, "That young man will either be killed by you or he will spend the rest of his life in prison in a country that is not his own."
The defense will try to prove that other conspirators with larger roles will not receive death; that Al-'Owhali had no prior criminal history; that he believed he was defending Muslims against U.S. oppression; and that the embassy was a legitimate target.
U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand said it was the first time in Manhattan federal court that a jury had been asked to decide directly whether someone should be put to death.
"It is impossible for me to overstate the importance of this decision," Sand said. In past death penalty cases in the Manhattan federal court, dating from the 1950s and earlier, the sentence was automatically imposed upon conviction.
Tuesday's verdicts capped three months of testimony and 12 days of deliberations as jurors meticulously worked on the daunting task of completing the 61-page verdict form. The four men were convicted of all 302 counts.
"I am very happy, justice has been done," Charles Abiud, who was in a building that collapsed when the bomb exploded at the embassy next door, said from Nairobi after the verdicts were reached.
Ellen Bomer was blinded by the terrorist blast in Kenya, and she never saw the men responsible for her loss. But the sound of their convictions was welcome news.
"It was the sound I wanted to hear," said Bomer. "I felt like standing up and singing out Handel's `Messiah' -- `Alleluia, alleluia."'
U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White called Tuesday's verdicts "a triumph for world justice and for world unity in combating international terrorism."
In the first phase of the trial, jurors heard FBI testimony that Al-'Owhali confessed to riding in a bomb-laden truck to the embassy in Kenya, and tossing stun grenades to distract guards. The FBI said Mohamed helped grind TNT for the bomb in Tanzania before loading the bomb truck, seeing it off and praying it would succeed.
The verdicts set the stage for more trials: Six other defendants charged with conspiracy are in custody. Thirteen more are still at large, including bin Laden.
Afghanistan's ruling Taliban on Wednesday said convictions over the bombing were "unfair" and vowed never to hand over bin Laden, calling him "a great holy warrior of Islam."