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The pretrial hearing began Wednesday into the Nov. 5, 2009, shootings at Fort Hood in Texas, with witnesses testifying that accused gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan showed a cold resolve in turning a routine day at the Army processing center into a bloody massacre.
Major Hasan is charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. The military hearing – expected to last about three weeks – is to determine whether there is enough evidence against the former Army psychiatrist to go forward with a court martial. He could potentially face the death penalty.
Witnesses to the shooting spree recalled the smell of sulfur from gunfire filling the air, people dropping to the floor either shot or avoiding bullets, and an aged civilian physician’s assistant attempting to knock over Hasan with a chair before being shot and killed himself.
The Austin-American Statesmen focused on the testimony of Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was the first to testify. He recounted trying to flee the building as he saw a red laser light flash across his face. A bullet struck above his left eye, wounding him. He testified that as he went in and out of consciousness, he heard a female soldier scream: “He’s one of ours! He’s one of ours!”
The Houston Chronicle noted that Wednesday was the first time Sergeant Lunsford met eyes with Hasan since the incident one year ago. Hasan sat in the courtroom in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down since Fort Hood police shot on him after the rampage. The accused gunman showed no emotion as he heard for the first time the testimonies against him, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Associated Press focused on testimony from Pfc. George Stratton III and Staff Sgt. Alvin Howard, who testified about Hasan's intense and "piercing" eyes as he looked into his fellow Army officers' faces and then shot them.
One soldier recalled Hasan with an “old-fashioned” weapon, while another said it had a laser gun-sight; last November, some had recalled Hasan with two weapons, though no one mentioned this Wednesday, reported AP.
Hasan’s lead attorney has said that his goal is to spare him the death penalty and hinted that he may use an insanity defense, according to The Washington Post. He says that Hasan cannot get a fair trial at Fort Hood and has asked for the trial location to be changed, the Post adds.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim whose parents had emigrated from a Palestinian town to Jordan and then to the United States, was set to be deployed to Afghanistan. After his parents passed away, he became more religiously observant and began e-mail correspondence with the imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been linked to past Al Qaeda attacks against the US. His e-mail exchange was noted by the Joint Terrorism Task Forces but never passed along to the military, according to a review done at the request of the Pentagon, the Post noted.
The military allowed few reporters into the hearing, the Post added, which meant most listened to a live stream of the audio outside but could not confirm the identity of the people speaking.
Several witnesses recalled Hasan yelling “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) before he began firing, as the Austin-American Statesmen reported:
Spc. James Armstrong, a mental health specialist with a combat stress control reserve unit from Kansas, said the accused Fort Hood shooter "started to fire on people on the floor" after his initial round of gunfire.
Armstrong, who was shot in the leg and the back, said the center was filled with blood and bodies.
"It was the worst horror movie you could ever see," he said. "There were bloody handprints on the walls from people trying to get up."