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Fort Hood trial brings attacker, victims together

by NOMAAN MERCHANT Associated Press on August 06, 2013 10:20 AM

FORT HOOD, Texas — After years of delays, the trial of the man who carried out the Fort Hood shooting seems likely to unfold as a faceoff between the gunman and his victims.

Starting today, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan will represent himself at a court-martial charging him with murder and attempted murder for the 2009 attack that left 13 people dead. Over the next several weeks, he is expected to deliver an opening statement, to question witnesses and possibly present his own evidence.

On the witness stand will be many of the more than 30 people who were wounded, plus dozens of others who were inside the post’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where service members went to prepare for deployment. They saw Hasan shout “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” — and open fire on unarmed fellow soldiers.

Hasan has never denied carrying out the attack, and the facts of the case are mostly settled. But questions abound about how the trial will play out.

The defendant, who was shot in the back by officers responding to the attack, is now paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair.

Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was wounded, is expected to testify. He said he looked forward to seeing Hasan, in a way.

“I’m not going to dread anything. That’s a sign of fear,” Lunsford said. “That man strikes no fear in my heart. He strikes no fear in my family. What he did to me was bad. But the biggest mistake that he made was I survived. So he will see me again.”

But Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning said he dreaded the expected confrontation.

“I have to keep my composure and not go after the guy,” said Manning, a mental health specialist who was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with Hasan. “I’m not afraid of him, obviously. He’s a paralyzed guy in a wheelchair, but it’s sickening that he’s still living and breathing.”

The trial is expected to last at least a month, but Col. Tara Osborn, the judge overseeing it, told jurors Monday to prepare for several months.

Hasan’s defense strategy remains unclear. John Galligan, Hasan’s former lead attorney, said Monday that he still keeps in touch with Hasan but wasn’t sure what he would say this morning, if anything.

Hasan has indicated recently that he still wants his views to be heard. He has released statements to media outlets about his views on the Islamic legal code known as Sharia and how it conflicts with American democracy.

If he is convicted and sentenced to death, it will most likely be decades before he makes it to the death chamber, if at all.

The military has not executed an active-duty soldier since 1961. Five men are on the military death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., but none is close to an execution date.

AP National Writer Allen G. Breed and Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti contributed to this report.

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