FORT HOOD — One by one, victims of the Fort Hood shooting told a courtroom Friday the story of carnage in a waiting area where more than a dozen were wounded nearly four years ago.
Of the 17 witnesses to testify Friday, 13 said Maj. Nidal Hasan shot them, with 31 gunshot wounds among the group.
All but one was sitting in Station 13 at a medical processing center when Hasan yelled “Allahu Akbar” and fired rapidly into the crowd.
“The room filled with the smell of gunpowder and blood,” said former Spc. Logan Burnett, who was shot three times.
Hasan, 42, told the jury he carried out the shooting, which witnesses said began about 1:15 p.m. as the room with about 45 chairs filled with soldiers returning from lunch.
Many had arrived at Fort Hood the night before or early Nov. 5, 2009. The post served as a major staging area for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time.
A common narrative began to emerge as the individual accounts mounted. Nearly every soldier at first believed the shooting was a training scenario.
“My initial thought was it was a training exercise because there had been shootings at mental health clinics in Iraq downrange,” Burnett said.
Even some of the wounded thought they had been hit with rubber bullets or paint balls.
“I said, ‘What did that stupid (expletive) hit me with? Training isn’t supposed to hurt this bad,’” Capt. Brandy Mason told the court.
Spc. Keara Torkelson was one of the first to realize the nature of the attack. Torkelson said she felt a burning sensation to the back of her head. She rubbed what turned out to be a gunshot wound and saw blood on her hand. Torkelson turned to a sergeant sitting nearby and said the bullets were real and sought cover.
Sgt. 1st Class Paul Martin said he wondered how he would get his uniform clean in time for deployment if someone was shooting him with paint balls.
The deep red color of blood he saw emerging from his arm made Martin realize he was shot. Martin was hit three times, but managed to escape.
“I made up my mind that I’m getting out of this building,” he said. “I don’t care if he shoots me again.”
Hasan declined to cross-examine any of Friday’s witnesses, including former Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning, who medically retired after he was shot six times during the attack.
Manning previously said he was nervous Hasan would question him, but Hasan did not, allaying fears that he may re-traumatize victims through his actions in court.
However, Hasan did make two objections during the hearing. He argued first against showing a photo of dead victim Michael Cahill, calling the prosecution’s effort to show his photo “cumulative.”
Presiding judge Col. Tara Osborn overruled that objection but sustained Hasan’s second objection, when prosecutor Maj. Larry Downend attempted to ask Burnett about how his multiple gunshot wounds affected his military career.
“I object,” Hasan said. “Aggravation evidence has its own place.”
Hasan was referring to the punishment phase of trial, where a jury can be presented evidence of the impact of a crime when deciding a sentence.
While testimony continued Friday, a portion of Hasan’s legal team prepared an appeal in an attempt to distance themselves from the case.
Hasan authorized two of his standby counsel to leave the court Friday to prepare an emergency writ, which they will file with the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
Osborn permitted two lawyers to leave the courtroom to create the appeal, which challenges their request to stop advising Hasan or assume control of his defense.
Hasan’s former lead defense attorney, Lt. Col. Kris R. Poppe, told the court Wednesday he believes Hasan desires a death sentence and argued it is unethical for the legal team to assist the major in any fashion if he is courting death.
Contact Philip Jankowski at email@example.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.