NEW YORK (AP) – The Port Authority was found negligent Wednesday in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center – a long-awaited legal victory for victims of an attack that killed six people and wounded 1,000 eight years before terrorists brought down the center’s twin towers.

The six-person jury ruled that the Port Authority, the bistate agency that owned and ran the World Trade Center, was negligent in failing to safely maintain the parking garage where terrorists detonated more than a half-ton of explosives in a rented van.

Several separate trials will now be held to determine money damages. The trial on liability, while not a class action, affected some 400 individuals in more than 100 lawsuits. Their cases were consolidated for the sake of judicial efficiency.

The jury deliberated about nine hours over two days to reach its verdict after the four-week trial in Manhattan’s state Supreme Court.

The trial spotlighted an attack that was overshadowed by the devastation of Sept. 11, but which was horrific nonetheless. The noontime blast on Feb. 26, 1993, blew a gigantic crater in the garage, filled the 110-story twin towers with smoke, wrecked their power and emergency systems, and spread fear across New York.

The verdict came after almost 12 years of legal delays in the civil case. The Port Authority’s last appeal, to try to get the case thrown out, was rejected last year, clearing the way for the trial.

Eileen Olsen of Hyattsville, Md., sister of Donna Olsen, a plaintiff who died before the case came to trial, was in court to hear the verdict. “I think it’s great,” she said. “They (the jurors) felt as we did: the Port Authority did not fulfill its responsibility, its duty to keep them (the victims) safe.”

The PA’s lawyers said they would appeal Wednesday’s verdict.

“The Port Authority believes there are extremely strong grounds for an appeal based on errors made by the court during this trial,” lawyer Marc Kasowitz said. “The Port Authority is confident that it will prevail.”

Jurors said they were swayed by a 1985 report written by the Port Authority’s own security officials, who warned the 400-slot garage was a likely attack site. Lawyers for the plaintiffs cited the report as proof that the Port Authority could have protected the building long before the attack, but did not want to because it was inconvenient and would have cost too much.

“They should have closed the garage,” lead plaintiff lawyer David J. Dean said after the verdict. “Lives would have been saved, and 1,000 people would not have been hurt.”

Jurors apparently agreed.

Ray Gonzalez, 58, of Murray Hill, said the 1985 report was “very prominent” in deliberations. He said the PA “dropped the ball. No one took (the report) seriously.”

Rafael Garcia, 34, of Chelsea, said the fact that the 1985 report cited the parking garage as a possible attack site “was the key” in helping the jury reach its verdict. He said its warnings were “eerily accurate.

Killed in the blast were John DiGiovanni, 45, a Valley Stream dental equipment salesman; Wilfredo Mercado, 37, a Peruvian immigrant who worked as a purchasing agent for a hotel in the center; Steve Knapp, 48, of New York, a Vietnam veteran and avid fisherman; Monica Smith, 34, of Seaford, a secretary pregnant with her first child; Robert Kirkpatrick, 61, of Suffern, a locksmith; and William Macko, 57, a heating and air-conditioning mechanic from Bayonne, N.J.

The jury determined that the agency was 68 percent liable for the bombing – a ruling that Kasowitz found stunning.

“To hold the Port Authority twice as liable as the terrorists for the 1993 bombing stands logic, rationality, and reason on their heads,” he said.

Dean said the 68 percent finding of liability means the Port Authority will be 100 percent liable for any money damages later juries award to victims.

Kasowitz said during the trial that it was “offensive” to suggest the agency chose profits over safety. He said 3,000 of the Port Authority’s own employees, which the agency considered “family,” worked at the site in 1993.

And he said nothing would have deterred resourceful terrorists – obsessed with bombing a building that was an icon of democracy and capitalism – from finding a way to unleash an attack.

“The plaintiffs want to blame the Port Authority for the murderous acts of fanatical terrorists who schemed for years and traveled thousands of miles” to carry out the attack, Kasowitz told the jury.

During this trial, state Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Figueroa ordered lawyers to avoid mention of the Sept. 11 attack because it was irrelevant to the 1993 bombing.

Six people were convicted in federal court and sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the bombing.

Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the reputed mastermind, said at sentencing: “Yes, I am a terrorist and I am proud of it.”

U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy told him that if he had succeeded in his plan to topple the towers into one another, he could have killed a quarter of a million people.

“Your God is not Allah. You worship death and destruction. What you do you do not for Allah; you do it only to satisfy your own twisted sense of ego,” Duffy told him as he sentenced him to what amounted to life in solitary confinement.

Duffy said Yousef needed to be treated as if he were “a virus which, if loosed, could cause plague and pestilence throughout the world.”

AP-ES-10-26-05 1946EDT

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