A jury began hearing evidence Monday in the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in connection with the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Twelve jurors and several alternates were chosen to hear evidence in the sentencing phase of the trial, which is being held in a federal court in Virginia, just outside Washington.
Moussaoui has already pleaded guilty to six charges, including conspiring with al-Qaida to use airplanes in terrorist attacks against the United States. The jury will decide whether he is put to death or will spend the rest of his life in prison.
In opening arguments Monday, prosecutors argued that Moussaoui could have helped prevent the September 11 attacks if he had told investigators what he knew about the plot after he was arrested the month before the attacks.
Prosecutor Rob Spencer told the jury that by lying about what he knew, Moussaoui caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people and that he rejoiced in the death and destruction of the 9/11 attacks.
Defense attorneys maintain their client knew nothing about the 9/11 plot and that he was supposed to be part of a second wave of attacks by al-Qaida that would use a plane to target the White House.
Court appointed defense attorney Edward MacMahon urged the jury to judge Moussaoui fairly and not see him as a substitute for Osama bin Laden.
Many family members of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks are following the sentencing phase of the trial, which has been made available to them on closed circuit television at federal courthouses in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Carrie Lemack is a founder of one of the support groups for the September 11 families. She lost her mother in the attacks.
"9/11 is very personal," she said. "It is my mother's murder."
Sally Regenhard lost her son Christian at the World Trade Center in New York. She has been closely following the Moussaoui trial from the beginning.
"I need to see what justice feels like, what an attempt to achieve some type of justice or accountability or responsibility feels like," said Sally Regenhard.
Moussaoui entered his guilty plea to conspiracy charges last April. The case has dragged on for more than four years thanks to numerous procedural delays and several courtroom outbursts by Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent.
Moussaoui was arrested at a flight school in Minnesota in August of 2001 after instructors became suspicious when he told them he wanted to learn how to fly a plane but not how to take off.