FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. Army staff sergeant partly paralyzed and brain damaged from the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, on Monday said his injuries left him deeply angry and worried about finding work, remaining married and caring for his infant son.
Staff Sergeant Patrick Ziegler was one of a dozen witnesses to tell of their losses in the sentencing phase for Major Nidal Hasan, who was convicted on Friday of killing 13 people and wounding 31 others in the November 5, 2009 attack on unarmed fellow service members. Family members of those slain talked of being suicidal and of seemingly insurmountable grief.
Hasan could face execution. The military jury of 13 officers who convicted him are now considering his punishment.
Some witnesses lost their composure as they testified about the toll of the slaughter on their lives. Young widow Cristi Greene broke down into sobs that obscured much of what she tried to say about her slain husband, Specialist Frederick Greene, age 29.
Jennifer Hunt, the widow of Specialist Jason Hunt, 22, said she twice had attempted suicide since his death.
“I pretty much lost my mind for a while,” she testified.
Juan Velez recalled the day he learned his pregnant daughter Private Francheska Velez, 21, died at the hands of Hasan.
“It hurt me down to the bottom of my soul,” Velez said. “He killed my grandson and he killed me, slowly.”
Ziegler, who limped heavily to the witness stand, testified that he was shot four times, including once in the head. He underwent emergency surgery that removed 20 percent of his brain, he said.
“I was expected to either die or remain in a vegetative state for the rest of my life,” he testified. He was 27 at the time of the shooting.
His injuries rendered him partly paralyzed, unable to use his left hand and with vision troubles, he said. A college graduate, Ziegler said he now has the cognitive abilities of a 10th- or 11th-grader and fears he will be unable to hold a regular job when he is discharged from the military next month.
“Eventually I will succumb to my wounds,” he said. “I won’t be able to function.”
The shooting left him severely depressed and angry, he said.
“It pretty much affected every facet of my personality. I‘m a lot angrier and a lot darker than I used to be,” he testified.
He said his wife “kind of has to lead me around,” and in caring for his 10-month-old son, he said: “I‘m unable to interact and play with him like a normal father would.”
Hasan did not cross-examine any of the witnesses during Monday’s hearing. During the trial, Hasan did not call any witnesses on his behalf.
Hasan, a psychiatrist, was convicted of 45 charges of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder. If the jury is unanimous, he could face the death penalty by lethal injection, possibly making him the first U.S. soldier to be executed by the U.S. military since 1961.
Hasan, 42, an American-born Muslim who acted as his own defense lawyer, told mental health evaluators he wanted to become a martyr and lawyers assisting him said he was actively seeking the death penalty, though Hasan has disputed that claim.
The trial recessed at about 3:30 p.m. CDT and was slated to resume on Tuesday with more witness testimony.
Hasan will continue to represent himself in the penalty phase. The judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, has repeatedly reminded him that military-appointed lawyers can represent him but he has declined.
Hasan was convicted of opening fire on unarmed soldiers weeks before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan. He admitted in his opening statement to being the shooter, saying he switched sides in what he considered a U.S. war on Islam.
Twelve of the dead were active-duty soldiers and one retired. Of the 31 wounded, 30 were soldiers and one a police officer. Hasan was also charged for shooting at another police officer and missing.
A death sentence by Hasan’s jury would trigger a lengthy process requiring the approval of the Fort Hood commanding general, and the president of the United States, in order for there to be an execution.
If he is sentenced to death, Hasan would become the sixth man on death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a maximum security facility for military prisoners.
Specialist Hunt’s mother described seeing the two uniformed military officers arrive at her home. Anticipating what they were going to tell her about her son, she said she quickly telephoned her daughter before they could speak so her daughter too could hear the news.
“I laid the cell phone on the table, and I told them, ‘Go ahead,'” Gale Hunt testified. Then, she added, “I could hear my daughter screaming on the phone, but I couldn’t answer her.”
Additional reporting by Jana J. Pruet; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer