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Fort Hood survivors, families recount losses

Prosecutors seek the death penalty in 2009 shooting

It was unclear whether Major Nidal Hasan planned to speak during the sentencing phase.

It was unclear whether Major Nidal Hasan planned to speak during the sentencing phase.

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 sentencing phase of Major Nidal Hasan’s trial. Prosecutors hope the testimony helps convince jurors to impose the death sentence — a rarity in military cases — on Hasan, who was convicted last week of killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 others at the Army base, about halfway between Austin and Waco.

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The sentencing phase also will be Hasan’s last chance to tell jurors what he has 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.

Hasan, 42, an American-born Muslim, has admitted carrying out the attack and showed no reaction when he was found guilty.

He is representing himself during his trial, yet he called no witnesses, declined to testify, and questioned only three of the prosecution’s nearly 90 witnesses before he was convicted.

It remained unclear Monday whether he planned to say anything during the trial’s sentencing phase.

Staff Sergeant 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.

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Doctors initially expected him to die or remain in a vegetative state.

Ziegler was hospitalized for about 11 months and had 10 surgeries, and his injuries left him paralyzed on his left side. He said he would never be able to use his left hand, has blind spots in both eyes, and can’t drive.

‘‘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.’’

He described his cognitive level as the same as a 10th- or 11th-grader, and he 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, Private First Class Kham Xiong, talked about growing old together and having more children. Now, she said, her children know their slain father only through memories or 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.

‘‘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 Private Francheska Velez, said his family hasn’t come to grips with her death.

The 21-year-old was pregnant when she was shot, and her cries of ‘‘My baby! My baby!’’ during the attack were described by several witnesses.

‘‘That man did not just kill 13, he killed 15. He killed my grandson and myself,’’ Velez said in Spanish. ‘‘It hurt me to the bottom of my soul.’’

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