Hasan trial moving forward at rapid rate
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
Opening statements and testimony began in the trial of United States Army Major Nidal Hasan on Tuesday, August 6. Proceedings are moving faster than originally anticipated with few interruptions by the former military psychiatrist, who is representing himself. The court martial is being held at Fort Hood, near Killeen.
Hasan, 42, is accused of 13 separate capital offenses, specifically, the premeditated murder of 12 active duty soldiers and one retiree, in addition to wounding 31 others. If convicted, he faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The shooting took place on Nov. 5, 2009 at the now-closed Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood.
In his opening statement, Hasan said evidence would show he was the shooter. He further stated after eventually realizing he was "on the wrong side" of the war, he switched sides, considering himself a Mujahedeen. Hasan offered apologies for the mistakes he had made.
150 spent casings
On Friday, August 16, proceedings included testimony from two law enforcement officials about securing more than 150 spent shell casings from a FN 5.7 handgun, eight magazines and an FN 5.7 handgun outside the processing center. They also secured a .357 handgun still loaded with five live rounds at the scene.
Weapons used by Fort Hood Police officers Sgt. Mark Todd and Sgt. Kimberly Munley in their gunfight with Hasan were also entered into evidence.
Munley testified that shortly after arriving, she received gunfire, which she returned immediately. The videotape from Munley's police car dash camera showed dust clouds between parked cars as rounds impacted a nearby parking lot. The courtroom was silent as she described the moment her weapon - and that of the shooter - jammed about the same time.
During the Wednesday, August 14, court session, Judge Col. Tara Osborn discussed whether Hasan had waived his protective privilege for medical documents after previously releasing them to the media, specifically the New York Times. Although Hasan was willing to waive his protected privilege, Osborn ruled that she would not release the full document to the prosecution.
Deaths ruled 'homicides'
Two medical experts testified about the autopsies performed on three of the 13 victims who died in the shooting. All three victims died from multiple gunshot wounds. Forensic pathologists described the deaths as "homicides." Evidence included autopsy photos, bullets, bullet fragments and autopsy diagrams that explain the location and trajectory of the bullets. The autopsies took place at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.
On Tuesday, August 13, five witnesses - three special agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a former Army Criminal Investigation Division officer and a forensic pathologist - testified on technical evidence presented by the prosecution. Other evidence included bullet trajectory analysis derived from the more than 270 bullet holes and impacts found in Building 42003 at Fort Hood.
Describing the carnage as "the worst scene I've ever seen," FBI Special Agent Brett Mills testified to re-creating more than 58 separate trajectories from five separate shooting locations.
Station 13 - 'very busy'
According to Mills, not all bullet trajectories could be recreated because of the need to medically care for and evacuate the wounded inside the building. Furniture and other evidence had been moved during the medical response to the numerous casualties.
Mills and his team used survey equipment, aiming rods and lasers to recreate a three-dimensional view of heavy firing in the building, which focused primarily on Station 13.
Witness Special Agent Kelly Jameson of the Army Criminal Investigation Division provided insight into the week before the shooting. Jameson presented evidence of Hasan's medical record tracking sheet, which he used while going through his own medical readiness processing at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center prior to his proposed deployment.
On the back of the sheet was a hand-written note, which stated that Station 13, the location of the greatest number of casualties, was "very busy."
That same day, FBI Special Agent Susan Martin testified to the hundreds of pieces of evidence collected at the shooting scene from inside Building 42003. The 146 spent shell casings and six magazines seized by the FBI were entered into evidence.
Numerous photos of the scene were shown to the jury panel, along with a seven-minute video taken several hours after the crime occurred. Private monitors were used to show the video and more graphic photos to the panel and judge alone, sparing onlookers from the grisly evidence.
Ushered to safety
On Monday, August 12, 18 witnesses testified for the prosecution. For the most part, they described similar scenes and their experiences of shock and disbelief as the shooting unfolded. Hasan declined to cross-examine the witnesses.
Survivor Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Royal ran to warn others who were departing a graduation ceremony in Howze Theater. Despite suffering a gunshot wound to his back, he ushered the bystanders back into the safety of the theater.
The testimony of Kimberly Regina Huseman offered insight into the carnage that occurred inside the Soldier Readiness Processing Center. Without objection by Hasan, the prosecution entered into evidence her recorded 9-1-1 call, in which gunfire was clearly audible in the background.
Huseman ended her just over six-minute call by asking the operator to ensure medical help was sent immediately. Using belts as tourniquets and makeshift medical supplies, she and fellow victims assisted their wounded colleagues until the shooter was incapacitated and emergency medical personnel arrived.
'Watching in disbelief'
Many of the prosecution witnesses who testified on Friday, August 9, had traveled across the country to face their alleged attacker. Bullet fragments were entered into evidence as witnesses testified to the gunshot wounds they received during the 10-minute rampage. Witnesses also described "watching in disbelief" during the shooting, which they first believed was a training exercise.
Gunshot wound victim Staff Sgt. Patrick Ziegler testified he believed the shooter was brandishing an Airsoft Gun until he was shot the first time. Subsequently, Ziegler survived a shot to his head and three more to his body.
Additional evidence indicated at least three individuals were alleged to have attempted to charge the shooter, several of whom were shot in their efforts to protect their fellow soldiers and civilians.
Hasan did not cross-examine any witnesses.
The only stand-by counsel present at the defense table was Lt. Col. Kris Poppe. Others had been excused to prepare a writ objecting to their role in trial proceedings. Hasan's erstwhile defense attorneys had informed Judge Osborn they intend to petition the Army Court of Criminal Appeals to amend or eliminate their role as defense counsel.
On Thursday, August 8, Osborn had denied defense counsels' motion to modify the terms of their role as standby counsel, which requested a reduction in the scope of their assistance. In response to Osborn's ruling, Hasan's former defense attorneys reiterated their "moral repugnance" at the way he was handling his own case, which, according to most reports, is heading down a path straight to jihadist martyrdom - whether he receives the death penalty or not.
Witnesses on Friday, August 9, had described a volume of gunfire significant enough to create a smoke screen that obscured the building's lighting but allowed a laser sight to target soldiers repeatedly. Testimony indicated uniformed soldiers were identified as primary targets.
Bullet fragments were entered into evidence as witnesses testified to receiving multiple gunshot wounds, and in at least one case, a witness survived six shots as he attempted to escape a hail of bullets.
Fifteen witnesses recounted the shooting clearly and with surprising detail. Hasan declined cross-examination, and objected only once to the admission of a photo of Michael Cahill, calling it "cumulative." Osborn overruled his objection. Cahill was the only civilian killed during the Fort Hood massacre.
On the opening day of the trial, a fellow member of the local mosque Hasan attended testified to a final conversation he had had with the defendant after morning services on November 5. The witness stated Hasan said goodbye and indicated he was going on a "journey."
Other prosecution witnesses testified that Hasan had purchased a weapon and practiced frequently at a local shooting range. They also asserted that Hasan had given away all of his possessions shortly before the shooting.
Hasan is expected to call only two witnesses in his defense.