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Emotional testimony as jury weighs Hasan’s fate

By Michael Graczyk 
and Nomann Merchant
Associated Press

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FORT HOOD, TEXAS: A soldier left for dead after being shot in the head. A widow whose two sons won’t have their father to take them fishing or teach them how to be gentlemen. A grieving father who includes himself and his unborn grandson in the death toll of the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

Survivors of the attack and relatives of those killed testified Monday during the final phase of Maj. Nidal Hasan’s trial. Prosecutors hope the emotional testimony — from sobbing widows, distraught parents and paralyzed soldiers — helps convince jurors to impose a rare military death sentence on Hasan, who was convicted last week of killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 others at the Texas military base.

The sentencing phase also will be Hasan’s last chance to tell jurors what he’s spent the last four years telling the military, judges and journalists: that the killing of unarmed American soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan was necessary to protect Muslim insurgents. But whether he plans to address jurors remains unclear.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Ziegler was among the first to testify, telling jurors how he was shot four times and underwent emergency surgery that removed about 20 percent of his brain. Doctors initially expected him to die or remain in a vegetative state.

Ziegler was hospitalized for about 11 months and had 10 surgeries. He is now paralyzed on his left side, unable to use his left hand, and blind spots in both eyes prevent him from driving.

“I think I’m hopeful I’ll continue to recover some movement, but eventually I’ll succumb to my wounds and I won’t be able to function,” Ziegler said.

The married father said he has trouble caring for his 10-month-old son, “like a normal father would,” and described his cognitive level as that of a 10th or 11th grader. He also said he has fought severe depression.

“I’m a lot angrier and lot darker than I used to be,” he said.

Shoua Her wiped away tears as she recalled how she and her husband, Pfc. Kham Xiong, talked about growing old together and having more children. Now, she said, their children know their slain father only through memories and stories.

“Our daughter will not have her dad to walk her down the aisle. My two sons will never have their dad to take them fishing or [teach them] sports or how to be a gentleman.

“I miss him a lot,” she added. “I miss his soft, gentle hands. How he holds me. He made me feel safe and secure. Now the other side of the bed is empty and cold. I feel dead but yet alive.”

As she testified, one juror, a male officer, fought back tears.

Juan Velez, the father of Pvt. Francheska Velez, said his family hasn’t come to grips with her death. His 21-year-old daughter was pregnant, and several witnesses testified about hearing her cry, “My baby! My baby!” during the attack.

“That man did not just kill 13, he killed 15. He killed my grandson [Velez’s unborn child] and myself,” he said in Spanish. “It hurt me to the bottom of my soul.”

The hearing ended for the day after a dozen people testified. Other widows, mothers, children and siblings of the slain also are expected to testify this week.

At the minimum, the 42-year-old Hasan will spend the rest of his life in prison.


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