Fort Hood rampage victims, kin offer gripping testimony

Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan
Bell County Sheriff's Department/AP

FORT HOOD, Texas - The sentencing phase of Maj. Nidal Hasan's capital court-martial continues today at Fort Hood.

On Friday, Hasan was unanimously convicted on 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 charges of attempted premeditated murder.

Monday, the government presented 12 witnesses who were asked to describe how the horrific 2009 shooting at the Ft. Hood Army base has impacted their lives.

The government's witnesses include soldiers who were injured as well as parents, widows, and children of those who were murdered by Hasan.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Ziegler Jr. was shot four times by Hasan and is now paralyzed on his left side. He had 20 percent of his brain removed during emergency surgery following the shooting.

He told the court how his injuries have put a strain on his marriage. "It has made it very difficult to communicate feelings and a lot of the anger and irritation that comes along with a brain injury makes it difficult to be in a normal relationship," he said.

Ziegler also said he cannot pick-up his infant or interact and play with him "like a normal father would."

Pvt. Francheska Velez was 21-years old and pregnant when she was killed in the shooting. Her father, Juan Velez told the court through an interpreter, "That man did not just kill 13 people, he killed 15. He killed my grandson and he killed me, slowly."

Maj. Hasan maintained that he was only out to hurt soldiers, sparing civilians on the scene, but the majority of the victim impact testimony came from civilians. Maj. Hasan did not ask questions of the witnesses.

After testimony from eight witnesses, Hasan only spoke up to inquire about lunch. "Given that it's almost one o'clock, I move we break early for lunch," he said. The judge barely looked up and instructed the government to call its next witness.

Maj. Hasan's conviction on charges of premeditated murder carry a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. The same jury panel of 13 senior army officers that unanimously convicted Maj. Hasan, will now vote on his sentence. The panel must vote unanimously to sentence Maj. Hasan to death.

"Military juries function no differently than juries in any other court. Ultimately, it is their collective sense of what is right that will prevail," explains South Texas College of Law Professor, Geoffrey S. Corn.

Some argue that Maj. Hasan should not get the death penalty because that is what they believe he wants. "If one of those members believes that the best punishment is not to sentence him to death, they have the absolute prerogative to write no on their ballot when they vote for the death penalty and that one no take death off the table," said Corn.

If Maj. Hasan is sentenced to life in prison, the panel would need a three-fourths majority to deny him edibility for parole.

Under military law, any sentence calling for more than one year of incarceration gets an automatic review by the Army Court of Military Review which then goes to the Armed forces Court of Appeals. In court-martials, appellate review is mandatory and cannot be waived or withdrawn when the sentence includes death.

According to Corn, "If his appeal gets through the process, it will be a long time before it is every carried out - the sentence of death."

It has been more than 50 years since the U.S. military executed a U.S. service member. Army Private First Class John A. Bennett was the last service member to be put to death, on April 13, 1961 after being convicted of the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old girl.

In 1983, the Armed Forces Court of Appeals ruled that military capital punishment was unconstitutional, but it was reinstated in 1984 when President Reagan signed an executive order adopting new rules for capital courts-martial. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there have been 16 military death penalty convictions since 1984, but 11 of those sentences have been overturned. The remaining five service members remain on death row.

Corn believes Maj. Hasan's sentence will survive appeals. He said, "The efforts have been made in this case to do it right and that means we should have a high degree of confidence that this case will prevail on those appellate challenges."


CBS News's Paula Reid is licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.