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Family of Fort Hood shooting victims talk of loss

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Joleen Cahill no longer hears her husband's footsteps entering their Texas home. The house has felt empty for nearly four years, she said, since her husband was fatally shot while trying to stop the gunman who killed 13 people at nearby Fort Hood.

Michael Cahill was the only civilian killed in the November 2009 shooting rampage. Witnesses said the 62-year-old physician's assistant was armed only with a chair when he charged Maj. Nidal Hasan as the Army psychiatrist opened fire inside a crowded medical building at the sprawling military base.

"One of the hardest things was being alone for first time in 60 years of my life. No one to come home to at night. No conversation. We loved to talk politics," his wife testified Tuesday during the penalty phase of Hasan's trial.

Jurors who convicted Hasan last week of killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 others are now being asked to sentence him to death. Prosecutors are hoping that testimony from relatives of those killed and of soldiers severely wounded in the attack help convince jurors to hand down a rare military death sentence.

Cheryll Pearson sobbed when she was shown a photo of her son, Pfc. Michael Pearson, hugging her during his graduation.

"We always wanted to see who he was going to become. Now that was taken away from us," she told jurors. "I found after he died he was going to come home and be married to his high school sweetheart. That was taken from us. Our grandchildren. That was taken from us."

Both women were among more than a dozen widows, mothers, fathers, children and soldiers who testified over the past two days about their overwhelming grief and attempts at recovery. Witnesses recalled the litany of moments that remind them of what they lost: a voicemail greeting, a box of photos or the thought of a daughter's lonely walk down the aisle one day.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case Tuesday afternoon, and the judge called a recess. Hasan said he wouldn't call witnesses or enter any evidence, though it was unclear if he planned to address jurors before they began deliberating his fate.

This is Hasan's last chance to tell jurors what he's spent the last four years telling the military, judges and journalists: that he believes the killing of unarmed American soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan was necessary to protect Muslim insurgents.

Hasan, an American-born Muslim, has admitted carrying out the attack and showed no reaction when he was found guilty. He is acting as his own attorney, yet he called no witnesses, declined to testify and questioned only three of prosecutors' nearly 90 witnesses before he was convicted.

At minimum, the 42-year-old Hasan will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Many of those who testified Monday talked about their biggest fear in the long hours after the shooting in the early afternoon of Nov. 5, 2009: the appearance of two soldiers at their doorstep, meaning their husband, parent or child was dead. Some said they waited more than 12 hours while trying in vain to call whatever phone numbers they could find.

One of Angela Rivera's most cherished memories after her husband was fatally shot at Fort Hood was his voicemail greeting. For years after Maj. Eduardo Caraveo died, Rivera had his cellphone kept active so she could call it and hear his voice.

Then one day, she said, it disappeared. The cellphone carrier upgraded its systems and required users to tape a new greeting.

Rivera also described driving to the airport immediately after the shooting to pick up relatives. Her young son, John Paul, saw the airport and wondered if they were going to get his father.

"Ms. Rivera, how do you explain to a 2-year-old the concept of death?" asked Col. Mike Mulligan, the lead prosecutor.

"I couldn't do it," Rivera replied, adding that a therapist later helped her explain what happened.

Rivera identified her husband's former cellphone carrier as Sprint. On Tuesday, Sprint spokeswoman Roni Singleton confirmed to The Associated Press that the carried upgraded its system and required customers to tape a new greeting. Singleton said she was checking to see if the old greeting could be recovered.

When Cindy Seager heard initial reports of a shooting at Fort Hood, she drove home hoping that she wouldn't see an unexpected car on her street. There wasn't one when she arrived.

But two officers came to her door at around 1 a.m., about 12 hours after the shooting. Her husband, Capt. Russell Seager, was dead.

"I'd known him for 30 years," Cindy Seager said. "I had to learn to be independent again, find things to do. It's getting better, but it's difficult."

Prosecutors want Hasan to join just five other U.S. service members currently on military death row. The jury of 13 military officers must be unanimous for such a death sentence, and prosecutors must prove an aggravating factor and present evidence to show the severity of Hasan's crimes.

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 vote for the death penalty. The president also must eventually approve a military death sentence.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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