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Police officers describe Fort Hood gunfight

Civilian officers Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd testify at military hearing for Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people. Hasan 'had a determined look on his face,' Munley says. 'Solemn. No expression.'

October 21, 2010|By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Ft. Hood, Texas — On the chaotic afternoon of Nov. 5, a gunman firing a laser-equipped pistol shot and killed several soldiers inside a crowded base processing center, then ran outside to shoot more victims.

There, he encountered Ft. Hood civilian police officers Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd.

The gunman opened fire — first on Munley, then on Todd. Within 30 seconds, the officers testified at a military hearing Wednesday, Munley lay wounded and defenseless as Todd confronted the gunman from 20 feet away.

"I challenged him — 'Halt! Military police! Drop your weapon!' '' Todd said.

The gunman, identified by Munley as Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, had just shot Munley in the hand, thigh and knee. She was flat on the ground, crawling to recover her police handgun, which Hasan had kicked away, she said. He stood over her.

At that moment, Todd testified, he saw the gunman's red targeting laser fixed on him. The gunman got off several shots. Todd returned fire five times from his Beretta M9 semiautomatic pistol.

"I seen him wince a couple times," Todd said. "I rushed him. I kicked the weapon, placed him in hand irons."

Those five shots ended a terrifying rampage for which Hasan is charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 more. In their first courtroom testimony, Officers Munley and Todd added dramatic details to a compelling prosecution narrative that paints Hasan as a coldly efficient and remorseless killer.

"He had a determined look on his face," Munley told the court. "Solemn. No expression."

Maj. Joseph Richter, testifying later Wednesday, described watching Munley and Hasan from about 15 yards away. "She lay there and looked up at him hopelessly," Richter said. "She was very alert, very pale-looking."

As Munley and Todd calmly described their overlapping gun battles, Hasan stared impassively from a few feet away. He sat slumped in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down by Todd's gunfire. He was warmed by a blanket and a green cloth watch cap inside the air-conditioned courtroom.

Hasan watched intently as video from the officers' car-mounted cameras was played in court. The videos did not show the shootings, but the bam-bam-bam of rapid gunfire resonated in the cramped courtroom as police sirens wailed in the background.

The Article 32 hearing will determine whether Hasan faces trial at a court-martial, where he could face the death penalty. The prosecution concluded its presentation late Wednesday after testimony from 53 witnesses the past two weeks.

The defense may present witnesses and testimony beginning Thursday but is not required to put on a case.

The civilian police officers were the 49th and 50th prosecution witnesses. More than three dozen soldiers, most of them wounded in the rampage, have described a gunman who shot and killed bleeding soldiers — including a pregnant private, Francheska Velez — as they awaited medical processing for deployments to or from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Several soldiers, some of them glaring at Hasan from the witness stand, identified him as the uniformed major who cried out "Allahu Akbar" — Arabic for "God is great" — before opening fire.

Defense lawyers have not challenged witnesses' testimony, but have focused on whether the gunman seemed to be firing randomly or at specific people. Testimony suggested that the shooter passed up several opportunities to shoot civilians while firing point-blank at uniformed soldiers.

While a resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Hasan reportedly told colleagues he believed the U.S. was waging war on Muslims. He said Muslim soldiers shouldn't be asked to kill fellow Muslims.

Hasan, a Muslim born in the U.S. to Palestinian parents, was at the processing center preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.

Officer Munley, who was praised by Ft. Hood commanders as a heroine for confronting Hasan, became a media favorite and appeared on the "Oprah Winfrey" and "Today" shows. Her testimony confirmed that she fired six or seven times at Hasan, but apparently did not hit him.

"I did not see him fall. Not from my shots, no," Munley testified.

Todd, who also appeared with Munley on the Winfrey show, was not injured and remains on duty. Munley, who had surgery for wounds that included a femur shattered into 120 pieces, said she plans to return to full duty Nov. 1.

At least 214 cartridge casings fired from the gunman's pistol were recovered from the shooting scene, investigator Kelly Jameson testified. The weapon was mounted with two laser targeting sights — green and red.

Jameson said the gunman carried 16 magazines loaded with rounds; some magazines were extended models that hold 30 rounds. He had 177 rounds still available when Todd's bullets brought him down.

david.zucchino@latimes.com

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