Fort Hood attack detailed as trial gets under way
FORT HOOD, Texas — Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford had waited for the moment he would face the man who killed 13 of his colleagues in the 2009 massacre here. He’d prepared to confront Maj. Nidal Hasan, vowing to answer questions without fear in his heart.
A showdown, however, never happened.
When the time came to testify Tuesday, Lunsford recounted for jurors how he had played dead, hoping the Army psychiatrist wouldn’t shoot him. The retired soldier, who was hit seven times, showed jurors where on his body Hasan’s bullets had struck him.
But Hasan — the America-born, 42-year-old defendant who is acting as his own attorney — didn’t ask Lunsford a single question.
As prosecutors began to present a methodical, detailed case, Hasan raised few objections throughout the day and asked almost no questions on cross-examination.
“The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter,” Hasan said in an opening statement that lasted little more than a minute. The evidence, he added, would “only show one side.”
Hasan said he was a soldier who switched sides in what he described as a war between America and his Islamic faith. He then fell silent for most of the day.
Among the witnesses he did not question Tuesday was Lunsford, one of more than 30 people wounded in the deadliest attack on a U.S. military installation.
Prosecutors asked Lunsford to show the 13 jurors where Hasan had shot him. The tall, imposing retired soldier, who told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he still has nightmares about the attack, slowly got to his feet and pointed to each spot on his body where Hasan’s bullets hit him.
Lunsford talked about playing dead, hoping that Hasan wouldn’t attack him again, before deciding to flee when he realized he was perspiring.
Hasan, who was paralyzed after being shot by officers responding to the attack, looked forward impassively throughout the testimony.
When Lunsford was excused from the stand, the two men did not appear to acknowledge each other as Lunsford walked past him and out of the courtroom.
Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder, and faces the death penalty if convicted. Hasan wanted to plead guilty to murder and attempted murder, but military rules forbid guilty pleas in death penalty cases.
During Tuesday’s testimony, he occasionally took notes on a legal pad. While two defense attorneys remain on stand-by, Hasan rarely turned to them for advice.
No American soldier has been executed since 1961, and military prosecutors showed that they would take no chance of fumbling details that could jeopardize any conviction down the line.
They described a calculating Hasan, armed with two handguns and carrying paper towels in his pants pockets to conceal the sounds of rattling ammunition as he walked through a deployment-readiness center on the sprawling base.
Employees at a local weapons store described how Hasan bought the pistol he used in the shooting — and took cellphone video of people instructing him how to clean it.
Hasan spent time at a shooting range and purchased a pistol and extender kit to hold more ammunition before carrying out his plan to “kill as many soldiers as he could” while avoiding civilians, Col. Steve Henricks told jurors in his opening statement. “He came to believe he had a jihad duty to murder his fellow soldiers,” Henricks said, adding that Hasan had researched Taliban leaders’ call to wage holy war.
The shooting happened about three weeks after Hasan learned he would be deployed to Afghanistan. Upon getting the orders that he was going overseas, Hasan told a doctor that, “They’ve got another thing coming if they think they are going to deploy me,” Henricks said.
On the day of the attack, Hasan sat among his fellow soldiers who were preparing to go overseas. He tried to clear the area of civilians, even walking over to a civilian data clerk to tell her she was needed elsewhere in the building because a supervisor was looking for her. The prosecutor said the clerk thought that was odd but went anyway.
“He then yelled, ‘Allahu akbar!’ and opened fire on unarmed, unsuspecting and defenseless soldiers,” Henricks told the jury. “Allahu akbar!” is an Arabic phrase meaning “God is great.”
The trial is playing out amid high security at Fort Hood, where armed guards stood in doorways and 15-foot stacks of shock-absorbing barriers obscured the view of the courthouse. Jurors were told to prepare for a trial that could take months and that Hasan, who is in a wheelchair, needs regular breaks.