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Suspect in Ft. Hood rampage sought high-tech gun, salesman says

Maj. Nidal Hasan bought extra ammunition and trained with human silhouette targets, witnesses testify

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

Reporting from Ft. Hood, Texas — The Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in a shooting rampage in November sought "the most high-tech handgun" available and wanted maximum ammunition capacity, a gun salesman testified Thursday.

Maj. Nidal Hasan also bought extended ammunition magazines and extra rounds while recording a salesman's gun instructions on his cellphone, Fredrick Brannon, a former employee of Guns Galore in Killeen, Texas, said at a military hearing.

Brannon said Hasan also bought an expensive targeting laser and "wanted to know everything there was to know" about the sophisticated FN Five-seveN semiautomatic pistol he purchased Aug. 1, 2009 — three months before the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base.

A local gun range operator testified that Hasan became proficient with the weapon by repeatedly firing at the torsos and heads of silhouette targets. Hasan also took a training course that allowed him to apply for a concealed-gun permit.

The Article 32 hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to try Hasan at a court-martial, where he could face the death penalty. After eight days of testimony from 56 witnesses, military prosecutors closed their case with three final witnesses.

Hasan's lawyers were granted a recess until Nov. 15. The defense may introduce witnesses and testimony, but it is not required to put on a case.

Hasan's civilian lawyer, John P. Galligan, has not said whether he will present an Article 32 case or mount an insanity defense.

A panel of three military psychiatrists will evaluate Hasan to determine whether he is mentally competent to stand trial. Galligan told the court that a civilian psychiatrist also will examine his client.

More than three dozen soldiers, most of them among the 32 people wounded in the Nov. 5 rampage at a base processing center, described a gunman who methodically shot soldiers awaiting medical tests — and then fired on bleeding soldiers as they lay wounded.

Several soldiers identified Hasan, 40, a U.S. Muslim born to Palestinian parents, as the gunman. They said he shouted "Allahu Akbar" — Arabic for "God is great" — before opening fire.

Among those killed was a pregnant private, Francheska Velez, who screamed "My baby! My baby!" as she was dying, witnesses said. Hasan pursued fleeing and wounded soldiers outside the center and shot them, witnesses said.

He was stopped by a Ft. Hood civilian police officer who fired five shots at Hasan, paralyzing him from the chest down. Hasan has watched testimony impassively, dressed in military fatigues and combat boots while slumped in a wheelchair beneath a blanket and a cloth watch cap.

Prosecutors did not elicit testimony about Hasan's alleged motives. He is not charged with terrorism offenses, but many people at Ft. Hood consider the shootings a terrorist attack because Hasan had reportedly told colleagues that the U.S. military was waging war on Muslims.

Several witnesses said the gunman reloaded quickly and expertly, targeting his victims with red and green laser beams that flashed across the faces of several soldiers who were shot.

On Thursday, prosecutors sought to show that Hasan carefully planned and practiced for the attack. He is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.

Brannon, the gun shop salesman, said Hasan told him he bought extra magazines and magazine extenders that increased magazine capacity from 20 to 30 rounds because he didn't like to waste time reloading while firing at a local range.

"He said he'd load the magazines at night while watching TV," Brannon said.

Army Spc. William Gilbert, a gun enthusiast who often visited Guns Galore, said he gave Hasan a 45-minute "full tactical demonstration" of the FN Five-seveN pistol at the store after encountering the major, who was wearing his military uniform.

Hasan told him he wanted "the most technologically advanced handgun on the market," Gilbert said. Gilbert recommended the FN Five-seveN because it is lightweight, with low recoil, and is easy to fire rapidly. When Gilbert asked Hasan why he needed such a sophisticated weapon, the specialist said, the major did not answer.

The gun fires 5.7 x 28 mm ammunition designed to penetrate targets and fragment on impact, Brannon said. The ammunition was taken off the market by authorities, who feared it could penetrate body armor, but stores were allowed to sell existing stocks.

Hasan returned to Guns Galore several times, buying up to eight boxes of the ammunition per visit, at $23.99 per box of 50 rounds.

Investigators said they recovered 214 expended rounds from the shooting scene, with 117 unused rounds found in Hasan's pockets.

John Choats, co-owner of Stan's Outdoor Shooting Range in Florence, Texas, about 20 miles from Ft. Hood, said he instructed Hasan in a concealed-gun permit class at the range.

The same day he passed the class, Hasan bought a range membership and began practicing with the FN-Five-seveN about twice a week, Choats said. Hasan fired at silhouettes, he said, often clustering shots "top center mass" — the torso and head.

Hasan chose to fire at human silhouette targets rather than at bull's-eyes, he said.

david.zucchino@latimes.com

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