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Hasan jury hears survivors' stories

Survivors of the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood and relatives of those killed have given emotional evidence during the final phase of US Army major Nidal Hasan's trial.

Prosecutors hope the evidence from sobbing widows, distraught parents and paralysed soldiers helps convince jurors to impose a rare military death sentence on Hasan, 42, who was convicted last week of killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 others at the Texas military base.

The sentencing phase also will be Hasan's last chance to tell jurors what he has spent the last four years telling the military, judges and journalists - that the killing of unarmed American soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan was necessary to protect Muslim insurgents. But whether he plans to address jurors remains unclear.

Staff Sgt Patrick Ziegler was among the first to speak, telling jurors how he was shot four times and underwent emergency surgery that removed about 20% of his brain. Doctors initially expected him to die or remain in a vegetative state.

Shoua Her wiped away tears as she recalled how she and her husband, Pfc Kham Xiong, talked about growing old together and having more children. Now, she said, their children know their murdered father only through memories and stories. "We had talked about how excited we were to purchase our first home. We talked about vacations and places we wanted to go visit. And all that was stripped away from me," she said.

The hearing ended for the day after a dozen people gave evidence. Hasan asked for three recesses through the day and the judge granted two of them.

Other widows, mothers, children and siblings of the dead are also expected this week to tell the jury of 13 high-ranking military officers about their loved ones and describe the pain of living without them. But they will not be allowed to talk about are their feelings towards Hasan or what punishment they think he deserves.

Hasan, an American-born Muslim, has admitted carrying out the attack and showed no reaction when he was found guilty. He is representing himself during his trial, yet he called no witnesses, declined to give evidence and questioned only three of prosecutors' nearly 90 witnesses before he was convicted.

Earlier, the judge asked Hasan if he wanted to continue representing himself and advised against it, as she has repeatedly done during the trial. "You understand that this is the stage of trial ... you are staking your life on decisions you make. You understand?" Col Tara Osborn asked. "I do," Hasan said. She told him that it was "unwise to represent yourself, but it's your choice".

Hasan will, at minimum, spend the rest of his life in prison, but prosecutors want him to join just five other US service members currently on military death row. No American soldier has been executed since 1961. Many military death row inmates have had their sentences overturned on appeal, which are automatic when jurors unanimously vote for the death penalty. The president must eventually approve a military death sentence.

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