Fort Hood Shooting Survivors Argue For Death Penalty

Aug 27, 2013
Originally published on August 27, 2013 3:02 pm

“I feel dead but yet alive,” is how one widow put it, describing her grief and loss. Her husband was among the 13 killed and over thirty injured in the Fort Hood shooting rampage.

The widows and the soldiers who survived that shooting are on the stand this week, arguing in emotional testimony that the shooter, former Army Major Nidal Hasan deserves the death penalty.

Hasan was convicted of 13 counts of murder in that 2009 shooting. Witnesses at the trial said he shouted “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for, “God is Great,” before he opened fire on unarmed soldiers. Many of those soldiers were readying for a deployment in Afghanistan.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. And there are calls today in Washington for President Obama to reconvene Congress, to get its approval for any military action against Syria. We'll speak with the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a moment.

YOUNG: But first, we want to check in on the sentencing hearing of the Fort Hood shooter, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan. There was more emotional testimony today from the mother of one victim, from others testifying. Seven survivors and family members of victims testified today. Twelve gave emotional testimony yesterday. They included the grandfather of a 21-year-old private who was pregnant when she was shot and killed.

Hasan has been convicted of murder in the 2009 rampage at Fort Hood that killed 13 and injured 32. The prosecution is arguing for imposing the death penalty. Hasan, mounting his own defense, has not yet asked for anything less.

Terrence Henry is from the HERE AND NOW contributor station KUT in Austin, Texas. He's right outside the courtroom. But Terrence, we are hearing that Hasan might also speak today?

TERRENCE HENRY, BYLINE: That's correct. Hasan indicated at the end of that testimony from the survivors and family members of the victims earlier today that he wants to take the stand today. Earlier, he had told the judge that he would like to wait a half a day or a full day after the family members and survivors had testified. Today he kind of surprised the court and said he wanted to talk this afternoon.

YOUNG: Well, and is it possibly because this testimony has been so emotional? We're hearing that some of the most emotional response from Hasan has come in the last two days, that he's actually reacted for the first time to some of the things he's hearing.

HENRY: Yesterday, he actually asked the judge for several recesses, and the court adjourned kind of earlier than expected yesterday afternoon. The judge explained this morning that that was because of some hygiene issues Hasan was having. Those have kind of appeared to be wrapped up today.

But overall he's appeared pretty - overall he sounded, I should say, very calm and lucid, and he had opportunities to ask questions of these witnesses, these family members, these survivors. But he declined to do so each time.

YOUNG: Well, and what is some of the testimony that we're hearing? Just terrible testimony yesterday, the grandfather of the private who was killed, saying you not only killed my child and my grandchild, but you are slowly killing me. Testimony today from Sheryll Pearson, her son, Private First Class Michael Pearson among those killed. What did she say?

HENRY: A lot of this testimony, like you said, was very emotional and heartbreaking. Sheryll Pearson lost her son, Michael. He was 22 at the time. They showed a photo of them together at his graduation. She says, you know, it's a hug I'll remember for the rest of my life. It shows exactly how we felt about each other. We were best friends.

And kind of, you know, a common theme that runs through a lot of this testimony that we've seen is: One, these families had to wait hours and hours and hours to find out what had happened to their loved ones; and two, in the years since, these almost four years since the shooting, it's been very, very difficult for many of these people.

One person testified today about how he had turned to alcoholism. He has managed to get sober since, and he actually takes his AA medals and takes them to his wife's grave and puts them in the ground at her grave. Others have talked about PTSD and depression. And then certainly the survivors of the shooting have had, you know, many physical and mental scars and debilitations that they're still recovering from.

YOUNG: Well, their testimony is important because the jury of military officers has to reach a unanimous verdict for a death penalty, and it doesn't sound as if Hasan, when he speaks, as you said later today, is going to ask for anything less than that. Some people feel that that's what he wants in order to become a martyr.

Terrence Henry of the HERE AND NOW contributor station KUT in Austin, Texas, thank you.

HENRY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.