Hasan to face more witnesses in penalty phase
San Antonio Express-News
FORT HOOD, Texas — When Army Maj. Nidal Hasan returns to a court Monday, he'll face 19 witnesses, most of whom are relatives of victims, who will testify in personal and emotional terms about the lives lost when he opened fire in a crowded deployment center.
All but three of the witnesses to take the stand this week are victims' relatives. They're among about 61 people the government brought to Killeen for a rare Army death-penalty trial.
Preparation for the punishment phase of the trial, which comes after a jury of senior military officers returned a guilty verdict Friday on 13 capital murder charges against Hasan, has been intense. He killed 13 and wounded 31 in the Nov. 5, 2009 rampage.
Prosecutors and Mary Jo Speaker, a U.S. attorney's office victim-witness coordinator who helped survivors in the Oklahoma City bombing, have spent long hours together.
Working on the post and in a local hotel since the trial began Aug. 6, they have shared family snapshots and crime-scene and autopsy photos in a notebook. Some of the photos are graphic.
“For some people, they don't want to know. For some people, they need to know in order to put this issue to rest, so you have that choice,” retired Army Reserve Col. Kathy Platoni, a survivor of the mass shooting, told the San Antonio Express-News.
“I don't know how many have looked though the graphic photographs. I did,” she said. “I've seen people die, I've seen people die in combat, so it's gruesome and it's terribly sad, but I need to know. I need to see. It helps me piece together the events of that day in a way I was unable to before, so I am very grateful that was made available.”
Prosecutors are expected to ask the jury to sentence Hasan to death, a step requiring a unanimous vote.
Before firing his attorneys two months ago and mounting his own defense, Hasan had 46 people on a punishment-phase witness list, but had no one available for testimony Friday. He and his judge, Col. Tara Osborn, discussed his service record, which under military law has to be considered as a mitigating factor.
Platoni said she was to have been Hasan's boss in Afghanistan and would have been in the laser sights of his pistol if not for chance. She'd planned to take one of 45 seats at Station 13 of the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, but an enlistee seeing her colonel's eagles told her she needed an escort to a nearby building.
Prosecutors say Hasan meant to kill as many GIs as he could as part of his “jihad duty.”
A U.S. citizen born to Palestinian immigrants, Hasan, 42, did nothing during the trial to convince the jury otherwise. He didn't offer a closing statement and told the jury he “switched sides” to the mujahedeen, or Islamic holy warriors.
“The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter,” he said at the start of the trial.
Emails and statements Hasan made to an Air Force sanity board show he'd grown increasingly radicalized through the years. In the months after arriving at Fort Hood during the summer of 2009, he bought a high-powered handgun at a Killeen store.
Prosecutors said Hasan acquired the weapon in a plot to kill soldiers, not civilians. They wove a tapestry of evidence for the jury to prove the point, including the pistol, ballistics evidence, witnesses who saw Hasan at Station 13 and in other situations, and postmortem findings.
Prosecutors will ask survivors and grieving relatives to testify about the 13 who lost their lives as Hasan emptied 16 magazines at the SRP.
Four victims will be represented by two family members. The grown son of Maj. Libardo E. Caraveo, 52, of Woodbridge, Va., will take the stand, as will his wife, who today cares for their young child.
Prosecutors hope to show photos of Pfc. Kham S. Xiong, 23, of St. Paul, Minn., as his widow testifies. The family had a tradition — taking pictures of his growing family every year.
If the judge approves it, jurors will see images of a new child in three snapshots, children who will grow up because their father was killed waiting for a flu shot.
Prosecutors want to introduce photos of Capt. John Gaffaney, 54, of San Diego, on his wedding day. Another image is of him with his only son.
Hasan did not object to that request Friday, but Osborn deferred a ruling in the matter. That's likely to come Monday morning.
Platoni, a 34-year veteran and former psychology consultant to the chief of the Army Medical Service Corps, saw Gaffaney die. She helped the wounded that day.
This past week, she has been in Killeen to support the family. She's grown close to his sisters, and has strong opinions about Hasan.
“A monster,” said Platoni, 61, of Beavercreek, Ohio. “A mass murderer. The epitome of evil.”