FORT HOOD — Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s trial began Tuesday with the Army officer telling the court he committed the shooting and concluded with jurors hearing the dying groans of one of the soldiers who died.
Hasan could face the death penalty if convicted of numerous charges for allegedly carrying out the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting on post that left 13 dead.
“The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter, and the dead bodies will show that war is an ugly thing,” Hasan said during his opening statement, adding that it led to destruction and devastation for both sides.
“We, the mujahedeen, are imperfect Muslims trying to establish a perfect religion in the land of the supreme God,” he said, noting that he found himself on the wrong side of the struggle. “I apologize for any mistakes that I made in this endeavor.”
The 42-year-old Army psychiatrist faced 12 witnesses Tuesday, including the first shooting victim to testify, retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford.
Lunsford, a 6-foot-9 Lexington, N.C., resident, limped to the stand and gave a minute-by-minute account of the event that afternoon in Building 42003 of the Soldier Readiness Processing Center.
Lunsford was an employee of the building where soldiers would undergo routine vaccinations and blood work before deploying. He is one of the witnesses who knew Hasan prior to the shooting.
Hasan sat with about 40 soldiers in Station 13, a waiting area with four rows of folding chairs, when he got up and told a civilian employee her supervisor needed her, according to Lunsford. Hasan took her place in a firing position that blocked off both exits to the building.
Shouting “Allahu Akbar” — Arabic for God is great — the major drew a high-powered, laser-sighted handgun and opened fire, Lunsford said.
Blood draw specialist Michelle Harper, the last witness to testify Monday, told the court the beginning of the shooting spree sounded like someone had set off fireworks. Staff near her first believed someone was playing a joke, she said.
‘It was a panic’
But Lunsford, standing feet from Hasan, could see the carnage erupt in the waiting area where the defendant began discharging round after round. “I was in a state of shock,” he said. “It was a panic.”
Soldiers began diving behind the chairs. Lunsford ducked behind a desk and went prone. In a far corner of the building, Harper huddled with others under a desk and called 911.
“Help us please!” she said to the emergency dispatcher. “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!”
Lunsford said his military training took over, and the sergeant entered “escape and evasion mode.”
Looking toward a southern exit, Lunsford decide to bum rush the crowd backed up there and force them out of the building. Before taking the 2½ strides he said he would need to cross the distance, he glanced back and saw a laser pointed at his face. Lunsford closed his eyes.
The first gunshot hit his left eye and exited above his ear. The impact pushed Lunsford back two strides and he fell to the floor. As he crawled to safety, Hasan shot him in the back, he said. Lunsford then said he decided to “play dead.”
Harper remained on the phone with a 911 dispatcher throughout the shooting, catching the quick bursts of gunfire in an audio recording played for the jury in Monday’s hearing.
She said she decided to make a run for the south exit, but as she neared, the gun blasts came in her direction.
Harper ran back to the desk where she hid and said she saw Hasan fire shots into Pfc. Michael Pearson, whose dying groans of pain could be heard on the recording.
“Oh my God, everybody is shot!” she told the dispatcher.
‘Dead men don’t sweat’
Lunsford, meanwhile, realized he could not stay still. Though shot twice, he could sense his arms, feet and hands still worked.
“I did my assessment, and I realized dead men don’t sweat,” he said.
He then sprinted out of the exit and out of the front, but not before Hasan shot him again.
Tumbling into the grass outside of the building, Lunsford was told to stay still, and two people attempted to perform triage on him. Hasan then exited the building as well and shot Lunsford again.
Moments later Lunsford was pulled to safety. The sergeant suffered two gunshots to the lower abdomen, four wounds to his back and a bullet wound to his left eye that blinded it. Unlike his “co-worker and good friend” retired Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cahill, who was shot while attempting to attack Hasan with a chair, Lunsford lived.
Harper escaped unscathed, running out of building 42003 and to her car as Fort Hood police rushed in.
Hasan expended 146 rounds inside the building, prosecutors said in their opening statement.
Throughout the day, Hasan only cross examined his former supervisor at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center and Pat Sonti, an acquaintance he knew from the Killeen Islamic Center.
Hasan asked retired Lt. Col. Ben Phillips to elaborate on an officer evaluation review that took place days before the shooting and indicated Hasan’s performance had been exemplary. He also asked Phillips about emails he sent referencing allegations of Army atrocities in war zones.
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, said that subject matter was outside of the realm of available subject matter, but told Hasan he could readdress the issue when he presents his case.
Hasan also asked Sonti to clarify religious practices at a morning service Hasan attended at the mosque on Nov. 5.
Hasan broke an unwritten protocol and took the microphone from Sonti during a prayer.
“He bid goodbye and told the congregation he was going home,” Sonti said Tuesday.
Testimony continues at 9 a.m. today.
Contact Philip Jankowski at email@example.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.