Covering the trial of Maj. Nidal Hasan was a surreal experience, to say the least.
I’ve covered several heart-wrenching trials in my professional career. And at the outset, this one seemed like it would be a dud, as far as fantastic quotes go.
I had heard gruesome testimony several times and learned long ago to divorce that kind of horrific imagery from your time at work with your time at home. The only side-effect I’ve noticed in my personal life is that I used to enjoy grisly gangster flicks. Now I prefer silly comedies.
So when the trial began Aug. 6, I felt fully prepared to see photos of corpses and the gory scene I had been imagining Building 42003 of the Soldier Readiness Processing Center turned into on Nov. 5, 2009.
Instead, the U.S. Army prosecutors made sure the worst of the worst was never shown to members of the spectator gallery. They hid photos of bodies and many other pieces of evidence, only displaying it on personal monitors in front of individual jurors and Hasan.
Even the enlisted soldier who was the technology person for the prosecution had a shade screen placed on his computer, obscuring the photos from anyone beside him.
This sounds terrible, but I was not alone in disappointment. At some point, several reporters reasoned, we’d have to explain the violence wrought by a twisted major upon dozens of unsuspecting fellow soldiers. “It needed to be printed!” we raged.
Any residual resentment over that small and likely wise choice by the judge and prosecution ended after two days of testimony last week.
The spouses and mothers testified to the anguish and despair they felt on Nov. 5, 2009, which some had dubbed 5/11 in a reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Each had a painfully similar narrative. Hearing about the shooting and calming themselves by remembering that Fort Hood is a sprawling base with tens of thousands of soldiers. Though many were shot or killed, the odds were their loved ones were safe.
Unanswered phone calls and text messages made their fear grow.
Knowing the post was on lock-down, over and over each thought that their loved ones were unable to make calls. As the evening turned into the late hours of the night, dread set in. It was confirmed when two soldiers in dress uniforms arrived at their doors.
After hearing that for each of the 13 killed, it was enough. Even battle-hardened journalists who had embedded in Iraq and Afghanistan, covered Hurricane Katrina or the West fertilizer plant explosion admitted to getting choked up.
But it was not all sadness. Funny things happened during the trial as well, especially in the Media Operations Center, a room in Club Hood where the post’s Public Affairs Office kept journalists corralled.
While eagerly awaiting the verdict last week, soldiers there created the term “Twitter Dash” for when reporters would run out of the auxiliary courtroom to get the latest scoop up on the social media site in hopes of getting the blast out there precious seconds before the competition.
“If you’re not hash-tagging things correctly, you might as well not be saying anything at all,” I overheard one journalist say. I guess it is a brave new world in journalism.
And then there was the bee attack. About 5:50 p.m. on the day of the verdict, several television reporters were outside getting ready for their 6 p.m. spots when a swarm ambushed us.
Imagine a bunch of cameramen and reporters running around and yelling, hitting themselves on their heads. I got stung on my forehead. It was a funny scene, but unfortunately, it did not crack my top five funniest bee sting stories. I get stung a lot.
When the trial was over, it was like any other event. You end up going through it just like a normal person. You make friends with people you meet. And, though most will agree it is a good thing that Hasan is finally out of this community, I will miss the great people I met along the way.
Thanks for reading.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.