FT. BRAGG, N.C. — Military prosecutors argued Monday that the Army sergeant convicted last week of murdering two of his officers in Kuwait should be put to death. They bolstered their argument with the testimony of 15 officers who described the loss of the two men and the attack's lingering physical and emotional wounds.
Testifying in the penalty phase of the trial of Sgt. Hasan Akbar, the officers said they feared loud noises, could not sleep, and compulsively locked and unlocked doors. Some who had planned Army careers said they were seeking to leave the military. Several cried on the witness stand.
Akbar was convicted Thursday of two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted murder in a nighttime grenade-and-rifle attack in 2003. His fate rests with a jury of 15 soldiers who are being asked to decide whether he should be executed or sentenced to life in prison.
Akbar, 34, a Muslim raised in South Los Angeles, has said that his fellow soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division drove him to attack because they continually made slurs against his religion. He has said he feared American soldiers would kill Muslim women and children in Iraq.
According to testimony, he outlined the attack plan in a computer diary, and in the early hours of March 23, 2003, just before his unit was to move into Iraq, Akbar shut off nearby lights, lobbed grenades at sleeping officers and sprayed them with rifle fire as they ran from their tents.
Army Maj. Townley Hedrick, hit in the feet by grenade shrapnel, said soldiers tried to save the lives of Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, who suffered 83 shrapnel wounds, and Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, 27, who was shot in the back. Both men died. Fourteen others were wounded.
"As I looked at Maj. Stone, he was completely shredded with holes," Hedrick said.
"The worst bleeding was his neck; he was just spouting blood. One glance at Maj. Stone and I wrote him off as dead. There was no way he was going to live," he said.
Air Force Capt. Mark Wisher, who was severely wounded in the chest, said Monday that he was haunted by Stone's last moments.
"I saw the fear in his eyes and the realization that he wasn't going to see his family again, his two boys and his fiancee," Wisher said.
Army Capt. Dexter McLendon said that he worried about another "walking time bomb" within the ranks.
"I have a problem being in closed-in areas, like tents and buildings," he said. "I don't like being around people. I don't like it when windows go down. I'm constantly looking at doors. I'm always looking for ways to escape," he said.
He said he had visited Army psychiatrists half a dozen times for help dealing with his fear of loud noises -- "just anything that sounds like an explosion. I immediately want to go to the ground and seek cover."
Army Capt. Gian Amorsolo said he checked his bedroom door 10 to 15 times each night to make sure it was locked. Once, driving to his base, he abruptly returned home to be certain that the doors were latched, he said.
Amorsolo, who was wounded in the attack, had hoped to serve 20 to 25 years in the Army. He plans to leave in June.
Army Capt. Terry Bacon also wants out, angry that a U.S. soldier caused the scars on his knees, legs and back.
"It used to be that one of the safest places in the world was in the field," he said. But now, "the green uniform is no longer a blanket of trust for me."
Army Capt. David Santos cried several times, recalling that Siefert was his closest friend and mentor.
"When I crossed into Iraq on the 26th of March," he said, "I never felt so alone in my life."
Army Maj. Andras Marton also broke down crying and had difficulty stopping. His legs were severely wounded and a lung collapsed in the attack, nearly killing him.
Marton, who began military school in the first grade, had planned to be a career soldier. Once an Army marathon runner, he limped into the courtroom. Marton recalled breaking down in tears on the floor of his hospital room at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
"I was paranoid," he said, reaching for tissues to cover his face. "I thought that I'd be attacked again."
Now, he said, he is "medically unfit" to remain in the service, as a result of Akbar's "evil."
He said that "President Bush, generals, senators, sports figures and movie stars" had paid him hospital visits.
But, he said, "I would trade all of that in a second to be back there with my command."