Prosecutors ask jury to condemn embassy bombers to death
NEW YORK (AP) – Backed by testimony from grief-stricken relatives, federal prosecutors asked a jury Wednesday to condemn to death two men convicted of mass murder in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
”Justice is not done yet,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told jurors. ”Each of you will be convinced in the end that the only just punishment that does justice for the victims is the death penalty.”
Sue Bartley – whose husband, the U.S. consul general in Nairobi, Kenya, and son were killed – later took the witness the stand.
”There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my losses,” Bartley said as family photos flashed across video screens positioned in front of the jury.
The testimony came on the first day of a penalty phase in the trial of Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-‘Owhali, 24, of Saudi Arabia. A separate proceeding will follow for co-defendant Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, of Tanzania.
Defense attorney David Baugh pointed at Al-‘Owhali and told jurors: ”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.”
On Tuesday, the same anonymous jury found the defendants and two other men guilty of plotting the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 224 people, including 12 Americans. Prosecutors say the bombings were ordered by Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi millionaire and reputed leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
Only Al-‘Owhali and Mohamed could face the death penalty because of their direct involvement in the bombings: Al-‘Owhali rode in the bomb-hauling truck in Kenya, while Mohamed helped build the Tanzania bomb.
No sentencing date has been set for co-defendants Wadih El-Hage, 40, of Arlington, Texas, and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, of Jordan, who could face life in prison.
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 court, dating from the 1950s and earlier, the sentence was automatically imposed upon conviction.
The defense is expected to argue that Al-‘Owhali should be spared because he was indoctrinated into a militant Muslim culture at a very young age, and believed he was a soldier in a war against the United States.
Baugh said he agreed ”with the government that you should not forget the victims.” He then read all the victims’ names.
”I don’t think anyone can make an excuse for what happened in this case,” Baugh said. ”However, there can be an explanation.”
Fitzgerald accused Al-‘Owhali of having no remorse, reminding the jury of an exhibit from the guilt phase of the trial: a photo of the defendant taken shortly after the attack, ”smiling like he was some kind of champ.”
The government’s case will rely largely on the stories of maimed survivors and people who lost loved ones.
”Words and numbers cannot describe the horror that Al-‘Owhali wrought on Aug. 7, 1998,” he said. ”You need to understand the pain, the horror and the agony that the bombing put people through.”
Mary Khahenzi, an African office worker at a building near the embassy, described how her husband, Thomas, a restaurant manager, put on a ”Jesus loves me” T-shirt the morning of the blast. After she survived the bombing, she fell to her knees and ”thanked God for saving my life. I did not know that I was praying for my husband.”
Four days passed with no sign of her spouse. She finally found his mutilated body on the floor of a morgue.
”He was very broken,” she said, ”but we identified him by the T-shirt he was wearing.”
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