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Fort Hood victim's widow: killer 'is not going to win'

U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan is pictured in court in Fort Hood, Texas in this August 23, 2013 court sketch. REUTERS/ Brigitte Wo
U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan is pictured in court in Fort Hood, Texas in this August 23, 2013 court sketch. REUTERS/ Brigitte Wo

By Ellen Wulfhorst

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - The widow of a worker slain in the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, vowed not to let the killing by convicted gunman U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan destroy her life and testified in a sentencing hearing on Tuesday that "he is not going to win."

"The shooting is not going to destroy my life or my children's. He is not going to win. I am in control," said Joleen Cahill, whose husband, retired Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cahill, was one of 13 people murdered by Hasan at the central Texas military base.

Cahill testified at the sentencing phase for Hasan, an army psychiatrist who was convicted of 45 counts of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder.

Hasan could be sentenced to death by the military jury of 13 officers, who convicted him on Friday and are now weighing his punishment.

He killed 13 people and wounded 31 others, most of them unarmed soldiers.

It was the deadliest mass murder ever at a U.S. military base.

Twenty family members and shooting victims gave testimony during the sentencing phase, which began on Monday, recounting heart-wrenching stories of loss, grief and wounds.

Prosecutors rested their case at midday on Tuesday.

Following a lunch recess, Hasan will have the opportunity to address the jury deciding his fate. The Army psychiatrist has been acting as his own attorney.

He told Judge Colonel Tara Osborn he did not plan to call any final witnesses nor submit any evidence in his closing statement. He did not provide any further details of what, if anything, he planned to say.

Hasan, 42, who uses a wheelchair after being paralyzed when shot by police upon his arrest, has spoken very little during the trial.

One of the final witnesses to testify, Cahill said she and her three children have struggled with emotional, health and work issues since the death of her husband Michael, 62, a civilian employee at Fort Hood. The couple had been married for 37 years.

One night, the widow said, she found herself having a thought that she described as one "you shouldn't have," without elaborating, and realized: "I need to start fighting back."

Hasan opened fire at the U.S. Army base in central Texas, one of the largest in the nation, just weeks before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan.

The most he has said in court was in his opening statement on August 6, when he admitted to being the gunman and said he had switched sides in what he considered to be a U.S. war on Islam.

Another witness during the sentencing, Teena Nemelka, also talked about her efforts to find strength after Hasan killed her 19-year-old son, Private First Class Aaron Nemelka.

Speaking through tears, she said: "I do have the honor and privilege of raising him and being the mother of such a wonderful boy.

"There's nothing or nobody that can take that away from me," she said.

Hasan declined to cross-examine any witness in the sentencing phase.

If the jury unanimously recommends death as his punishment, Hasan could face lethal injection, possibly making him the first U.S. soldier to be executed by the U.S. military since 1961.

An American-born Muslim, Hasan told mental health evaluators he wanted to become a martyr and lawyers assisting him said he was actively seeking the death penalty, though Hasan has disputed that claim.

Judge Osborn has repeatedly reminded Hasan that military-appointed lawyers can represent him but he has declined, choosing instead to represent himself.

A death sentence would trigger a lengthy process requiring the approval of the Fort Hood commanding general, and the U.S. president, in order for there to be an execution.

(Additional reporting by Jana J. Pruet; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Matthew Lewis and Bob Burgdorfer)

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