Fort Hood shooting jury ready to decide sentence for Nidal Hasan

Photo provided by Bell County Sheriff's Office
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 9:00am

Weeks of chillingly detailed testimony from survivors and family victims of the Fort Hood massacre culminate Wednesday in the final chapter of the court-martial for convicted shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan: whether he lives or dies for his crimes.

Closing arguments in the sentencing phase are expected in a military courtroom, and then a 13-member jury panel will deliberate -- weighing whether "aggravating" factors presented earlier this week by the government outweigh any "mitigating" evidence the defendant has deliberately chosen to suppress.

Unclear is whether Hasan, who serves as his own attorney, will offer any final words on his own behalf. Outside of brief comments at the beginning of the court-martial four weeks ago -- where he admitted being the lone gunman who left 13 people dead and 32 others wounded -- the defendant has not put on much of a case.

In the latest strange twist, Hasan on Tuesday rejected unilateral efforts by his standby counsel to offer reams of mitigating evidence to the court that might spare his life.

Hasan said he wanted his service record, his lack of a previous criminal record, and his psychological evaluations kept under wraps. Speaking in a clear voice from his wheelchair, Hasan dismissed the "ex parte" actions by his "overzealous defense counsel."

After weeks of mostly silence in his defense, Hasan had little more to say Tuesday in the capital sentencing phase of his court-martial, telling the jury panel three short words: "The defense rests."

His brief remarks produced a momentary gasp in the courtroom. The panel of senior officers last week convicted the defendant on all counts of premeditated murder from the November 2009 incident at the deployment processing center on this sprawling U.S. Army base. Hasan was wounded in the attacks and remains a paraplegic.

The bearded defendant called no witnesses and presented no documentary evidence on why he should not die for his crimes. He also offered no explanation for his refusal to mount any defense in either the trial or sentencing phases. Judge Tara Osborn, an Army colonel, reluctantly granted his wishes, again telling Hasan, "You're the captain of your own ship."

Tuesday saw the last of 19 victims and family members of the massacre offer heartbreaking testimony -- emotional recollections of lost loved ones, as well as injuries, physical and emotional, suffered nearly four years ago.

"The shooting and his killing is not going to destroy my family," said Joleen Cahill, widow of Michael Cahill, the only civilian to die in the massacre. "He is not going to win," she said firmly, referring to the defendant, sitting just feet away.

Hasan asked no questions of the prosecution witnesses, who spoke separately on the stand. None of them directly addressed Hasan at the defense table or bothered to look at him while they testified. Hasan himself stared intently at all the witnesses during testimony, occasionally wiping his nose.

Three shooting victims, eight widows and widowers, six parents and an adult child of a victim were among those who fought tears over the past two days to describe their physical and emotional suffering.

Cahill recalled going numb when she was told about the killings. "A lot of that night was a blank."

Also testifying Tuesday was Jerri Krueger, mother of Sgt. Amy Krueger, who was 29 at the time of the incident. She recalled what her daughter said the day of the September 11 attacks: "She said, 'Mom, I'm joining the Army.' I told her she couldn't fight bin Laden all by herself, and she said, 'Watch me.' "

Krueger and her best friend enlisted the next day, and she had aspired to be a clinical psychologist.

"When a parent loses a child," said Jerri Krueger, "it creates an irreplaceable void. I live with that every day."

Wounded by two gunshots was Lt. Col Randy Royer, a reservist.

"I have mental issues; I take anxiety medication," he told the panel Tuesday. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and dealing with crowds is especially tough. Visiting the local pharmacy, where chairs for patrons line the counter, reminds him of the setup at the center where the killings occurred. "I don't do well with that," he said softly.

Prosecutors were tasked with presenting "aggravating" evidence to demonstrate why Hasan deserves lethal injection.

The American-born psychiatrist of Palestinian descent was given numerous chances to offer "mitigating" evidence that could persuade the panel to spare his life.

But victims' family members had their turn Tuesday. Among them was Philip Warman, who was so distraught about losing his wife -- 55-year-old Lt. Col Juanita Warman -- he testified that friends had to take his guns away for his own safety. And he abused alcohol almost constantly until the following June.

"I was falling apart," he testified. "It was like something was ripped from me."

Warman entered rehab and has not had a drink since. He earns Alcoholics Anonymous coins as reminders of his sobriety. He told the panel that he pushes the coins into the ground when he visits his wife's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

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