Nidal Malik Hasan is acting as his own attorney in his court-martial. (Bell County Sheriff's Department…)
FT. HOOD, Texas – An Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 soldiers at this base was confronted by one of his victims who testified that he played dead during the deadly shooting rampage.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford testified Tuesday during the opening of the military trial for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack. If convicted, Hasan could face the death penalty or life in prison.
The courtroom fell silent and all eyes turned as the first victim arrived. Lunsford of Lillington, N.C., entered the courtroom at 2:41 p.m., wearing his dress uniform, a rebuke to Hasan, who has refused to wear his. Lunsford's civilian attorney, Neal Sher, sat in the back row, behind about a dozen victims’ relatives who watched Lunsford as closely as did the 13-member jury.
At 6-feet, 9-inches, Lunsford, 46, is an imposing figure. He passed within a foot of Hasan, who sat in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down after he was shot by a police officer responding to the attack.
Lunsford glanced briefly at Hasan, his face stern. Hasan stared back, impassive.
As one of the military prosecutors, Maj. Larry Downend, walked Lunsford through events leading up to the shooting, he remained calm.
At one point, Lunsford removed his glasses and stared at Hasan. Hasan stared back, unmoved.
As Lunsford described watching Hasan gun down “my friend and colleague” Dr. Michael Cahill, Cahill’s wife watched from the gallery, somber. He described how Hasan opened fire, shouting, “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.” Lunsford said Hasan shot him seven times as Lunsforde attempted to flee the building, including as he lay outside on the grass.
At one point, the prosecutor asked Lunsford to stand and show jurors where he was shot.
“The first bullet went in here, above my left eye,” Lunsford said, then proceeded to point to his ear, left flank, stomach and back.
Lunsford said he tried to appear dead after being shot, then decided to flee after doing “a self-assessment on myself because I realized dead men don’t sweat.”
Hasan, who is acting as his own attorney, did not take notes as Lunsford spoke, did not object to prosecutors’ exhibits entered into evidence — mostly diagrams of the building where the shooting occurred. And when the time came to cross-examine Lunsford, the defendant declined.
At 3:47 p.m., Lunsford finished testifying and was excused. Hasan looked down and made a note as Lunsford replaced his glasses and stood up to leave. The room fell silent again as Lunsford headed for Hasan and the door. This time, the wounded soldier did not look at his attacker. Instead, he touched the arm of the lead prosecutor, Col. Michael Mulligan, as he passed. He nodded to the media members seated in the back row, and exited through the door.
Hasan also declined to cross-examine the next prosecution witness, Michelle Harper. The phlebotomist was inside the building where the shooting occurred, and her 911 call was played in court, including her frantic cries for help and the moans of a dying soldier. Harper, who never made eye contact with Hasan while in court, was excused while the recording of the call was played.
In all, 12 prosecution witnesses took the stand on the first day of proceedings. They testified how Hasan had purchased a weapon and had often practiced at a local shooting range. Some also testified that Hasan had been selected to deploy to Afghanistan in October 2009.
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Ft. Hood and Muskal from Los Angeles.
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