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, adding that the injuries had “pretty much affected every facet of my personality.”
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.
“We had talked about how excited we were to purchase our first home. We talked about vacations and places we wanted to go visit. And all that was stripped away from me,” she said.
“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.”