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More wounded soldiers recount horrors of Ft. Hood rampage

Army Staff Sgt. Paul Martin, one of 11 witnesses testifying at a preliminary hearing, identifies Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan as the shooter. 'It was like a cannon going off inside the building,' he says.

October 15, 2010|By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Ft. Hood, Texas — Stiff with pain from lingering bullet wounds in his leg and back, Army Staff Sgt. Paul Martin rose slowly to his feet on the witness stand Thursday and pointed across the military courtroom.

"Yes, sir, that's him," Martin said, nodding toward Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, huddled in a wheelchair beneath a blanket and watch cap.

Martin said it was Hasan, firing methodically from two handguns, who shot him twice Nov. 5. And it was Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, who fired again and again at soldiers inside a medical processing building as they tried to flee, Martin testified.

Martin was one of several wounded soldiers who described on Thursday a terrifying shooting rampage, for which Hasan is charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 more before being brought down by police gunfire that left him paralyzed from the chest down.

Combined with searing testimony Wednesday from eight other survivors, the soldiers' accounts helped prosecutors build a narrative that paints Hasan as a ruthless and remorseless killer who fired on fallen soldiers. The hearing, which is expected to last weeks, will determine whether Hasan, 40, will stand trial at court-martial, where he could face the death penalty.

Soldiers described trying to play dead after they were shot, only to watch the gunman shoot other soldiers as they lay bleeding. Several, including Martin, identified Hasan as the killer who relied on red and green sighting lasers to mark his victims.

"It looked like a light show," said Martin, who was shot moments after he said Hasan abruptly stood up and shouted "Allahu Akbar" — Arabic for "God is great."

Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim who counseled soldiers, was at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center to take medical tests for deployment to Afghanistan. The building was packed with soldiers bound for Afghanistan or Iraq.

Eleven soldiers testified Thursday, nine of whom were wounded Nov. 5. Several soldiers pounded on a wooden railing to simulate the bam-bam-bam of rapid gunfire.

"It was like a cannon going off inside the building," Martin said.

Hasan shot Martin in the left arm, he testified. As he tried to flee, Hasan shot him again in the back, he said.

"I dropped to the floor like a rock and I said to myself, 'I'm paralyzed,' " Martin said at the Article 32 hearing.

Martin recovered, but was left with severe back pain and numbness in his fingers, he said. Other wounded soldiers described treatment not only for their physical wounds, but for mental and emotional anguish — post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and migraines.

Hasan is not charged with terrorism offenses. But many at Ft. Hood consider him a terrorist and his alleged rampage part of jihad against the United States, rather than an episode of workplace violence.

Hasan's attorney, retired Army Col. John P. Galligan, has complained that his client has been portrayed as a terrorist suspect.

In the months before the shooting, Hasan reportedly sent e-mails to Anwar Awlaki, an American-born terrorism suspect who has a U.S. bounty on his head. "I can't wait to join you," he allegedly told Awlaki in one e-mail.

U.S. authorities intercepted the e-mails but reportedly considered them part of Hasan's research on post-traumatic stress disorder. Awlaki, who is believed to be in Yemen, praised Hasan after the shootings.

While a resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Hasan reportedly told colleagues he believed the U.S. was waging war on Muslims. In court Thursday, Hasan was dressed in Army fatigues and combat boots. He watched impassively, occasionally taking notes.

Spec. Alan Carroll, testifying by video link from Afghanistan, said he saw a clear escape route during the rampage but stayed inside to protect his buddy Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka, who had been shot in the throat.

"I'd been told to never leave a fallen comrade," Carroll said.

As he tried to help Nemelka, Carroll was shot four times — twice in the arm, once in the leg and once in the back. He recovered and returned to duty.

Carroll was asked about the fate of Nemelka and two other friends who had accompanied Carroll to the center and were shot, Spec. Frederick Greene and Pfc. Michael Pearson.

"They all three died — passed away," Carroll replied.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler, a pale, slender soldier, limped into court with the help of a cane. He described the targeting laser passing over his face just before he was shot in the left side of his head.

Knocked flat, he watched his own blood pool on the floor. As he crawled toward a rear door, he said, he was shot three more times — in the shoulder, forearm and hip.

He later underwent surgery that removed about 20% of his brain matter, he said. He is relearning to walk and use his left arm.

After he testified, Zeigler glanced into the courtroom gallery and caught the eye of his fiancee, Jessica Hansen, who smiled at him. He struggled to stand, even with his cane. Once on his feet, Zeigler glared hard at Hasan for several seconds. Hasan looked down at the defense table.

With great effort, Zeigler turned and made his way toward his fiancee. The only sound in the courtroom was the pounding of his cane against the wooden walkway.

david.zucchino@latimes.com

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