FORT HOOD – For the first time, relatives of the 13 people killed in the Fort Hood shooting rampage confronted the man accused of the mass murder, Maj. Nidal Hasan, in an emotional day of testimony.
Shot four times in the 2009 shooting, Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler was the first to testify. He lost 20 percent of his brain from one gunshot wound.
“I was expected to either die or remain in a vegetative state the rest of my life," Zeigler testified. “I was in the hospital inpatient for 11 months.”
“I’ll never be able to use my left hand again like I did,” he continued. “My left foot is still paralyzed. No peripheral vision and therefore I’ll never be able to drive again. I’m hopeful I’ll continue to recover some movement. Eventually, I’ll succumb to my wounds. I won’t be able to function.”
Zeigler then revealed the mental cost of his four gunshot wounds and countless surgeries.
“I’ve battled with severe depression,” he said. “I’ve also become very angry and irritable. It’s affected all of my relationships. I’m a lot angrier and a lot darker than I used to be."
He added his cognitive level is about the same as a tenth or eleventh grader.
Zeigler said his injuries left him unable to pick up his 10-month-old son from the floor or "play with him as a normal father would."
"My military career is effectively over,” Zeigler testified. “I’ll be discharged in October of this year. My wife had plans for her education and career and they’ve all been ruined because of 5 November.”
Angela G. Rivera, widow of Maj. Eduardo Caraveo, remembered learning about the shooting rampage from a friend’s phone call.
“My heart sank,” Rivera said. “She said, 'There’s a lot of people who are dead. There’s a lot of people who are wounded.'"
She said she immediately tried to call her husband, who had just arrived at Fort Hood the night before.
“I called him and there was no answer," she said. "I got his voicemail. At that minute, I knew something was wrong.”
Rivera said she was not notified of her husband’s death until the following day.
“At 5:25 in the morning, I hear the doorbell and I knew,” she said crying. “I went downstairs and I looked through the glass and I see the two guys standing in uniform and I opened the door. They asked me if I was Angela Rivera and they asked to come in and I said ‘yes.’ As they stood in the living room I kept saying ‘I knew he was dead; I knew he was dead; I just knew he was dead because he did not call me back.'"
Rivera testified the family sees a therapist and continues to struggle with the loss.
“I had just lost my husband and my daughter said she did not want to live anymore,” Rivera said. “I said 'Please, don’t let anything happen to my daughter.'"
Rivera also recounted something her 11-year-old daughter told her.
“I just hope the guy who did this just knows the pain he has caused to all these families,” Rivera said.
Juan Velez, father of Pfc. Francheska Velez, said he was on his way to his in-laws home when his son called to say an Army team was at their home.
“On my way home I kept praying to the Lord that if it was something serious maybe she was only wounded,” Mr. Velez testified through an interpreter. “But when the notification team told me she had been one of the victims that for me was the end. It hurt me down to the bottom of my soul.”
He said his family still has not overcome her loss. A month earlier, Francheska announced she was pregnant with her first child.
“That man did not just kill 13,” Velez explained. “He killed 15. He killed my grandson and he killed me. Slowly."
Gale Hunt, mother of Spc. Jason D. Hunt said she immediately started calling her son’s cell phone when he daughter alerted her of the shooting.
“At first I thought Fort Hood is a big place, he is just busy and he’s not calling,” Mrs. Hunt explained. “He had been texting his wife saying he’s in a medical bldg and getting shots. At that point, I was very worried.”
“I got a hold of someone who sounded very young,” she continued. “I could tell by his voice that he was probably dead because he was saying ‘Um, um, um, you need to talk to somebody else. You need to talk to somebody else.’”
A few hours later, just before midnight, Mrs. Hunt said her doorbell rang.
“Two uniformed men [were there] I kind of turned my back on them but they let themselves in,” she recalled as her voice cracked. “I called my daughter. I don’t think she understood me but I said ‘There are two men here and they’re going to talk to me now.’ I laid the cell phone on the table and I told them go ahead. I could hear my daughter screaming on the phone. She said ‘Mom! Mom! I’m coming! I’m coming!”
“I just prayed for four hours – then I cleaned house for two weeks,” Mrs. Hunt testified. “Now I’m just dealing with it. I went to see his dad on the following Memorial Day. He just stands over his grave and says ‘I just miss the guy.’”
Court ended early Monday afternoon so the judge could sort out some logistical issues for Maj. hasan, a Fort Hood spokesman said.
U.S. Army prosecutors called eleven witnesses Monday and plan to have another seven testify tomorrow for the second day of the sentencing phase of Hasan’s court martial.
Last Friday, a panel of 13 Army officers found Hasan guilty in an unanimous vote on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the 2009 massacre at the Soldier Readiness Processing center.
Before sentencing began, the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, urged Hasan to use an attorney during this phase of trial.
“You understand you’re staking your life on the decisions you make?” the judge asked Hasan.
“I do,” he replied.
“I think it’s unwise for you to represent yourself, but that is your choice,” she added.
“It is,” he said.
Relatives of the 13 killed in the shooting testified. Among them, Jolene Cahill, whose husband Michael was the only civilian Hasan murdered. Witnesses testified that Cahill, a retired chief warrant officer who was working as a physician’s assistant, tried unsuccessfully to stop the mass shooting by charging Hasan with a chair as he changed magazines.
Mrs. Cahill has attended most of Hasan’s legal hearings in the last few years.
Prosecutors are also expected to call relatives of Pfc. Francheska Velez to testify. Multiple witnesses said Velez, who was pregnant, pleaded with Hasan not to kill her saying “My baby! My baby!” before he pulled the trigger.
It’s uncertain whether Hasan will make a presentation during sentencing.
Regardless, he will get an automatic appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
“If Hasan gets the death penalty, appeal is automatic to both the Army Court of Criminal Appeals and, if the Army appellate court upholds the death sentence, to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces,” said Richard Rosen, Law Professor, Texas Tech. “Hasan cannot waive an appeal if the court-martial imposes the death penalty.”
Hasan will eventually serve his sentence at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
“Depending upon his physical condition, he could also be confined at a federal prison with adequate medical facilities, such as the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo.,” Rosen added.
It's been more than a half century since the Army executed anyone. Pvt. John Bennett was hanged in 1961 for the rape and murder of an Austrian girl.