Scott Gordon, NBC 5 News
The standby attorney for the soldier charged in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage has accused Maj. Nidal Hasan of deliberately charting a course toward a conviction and death sentence. The assertion brought the trial at Fort Hood to an abrupt halt Wednesday. The trial will resume Thursday.
The standby attorney for the soldier charged in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage has accused Maj. Nidal Hasan of deliberately charting a course toward a conviction and death sentence.
The assertion led Judge Col. Tara Osborn to call a recess until 9 a.m. Thursday.
Lt. Col. Kris Poppe said it became clear Tuesday that Hasan representing himself is moving toward a death penalty and as defense attorneys they can not be put in the position of assisting him to do that.
"Working in concert with the prosecution to achieve the death sentence is something we can't do," Poppe said.
The judge delayed testimony and the court room cleared to consider the matter further in private with Hasan.
Eight victim family members were in the Fort Hood courtroom with 11 media members, including NBC 5's Ken Kalthoff, when the room was cleared.
Witnesses Prepare to Face Accused Shooter
As the trial began Tuesday morning, Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford waited for the moment he would face the man who killed 13 of his colleagues in the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood. He'd prepared to confront Maj. Nidal Hasan, vowing to answer questions without fear in his heart.
A showdown, however, never happened.
When the time came to testify Tuesday, Lunsford recounted for jurors how he had played dead, hoping the Army psychiatrist wouldn't shoot him. The retired soldier, who was hit seven times, showed jurors where on his body Hasan's bullets had struck him.
But Hasan -- the 42-year-old defendant who is acting as his own attorney -- didn't ask Lunsford a single question.
As prosecutors began to present a methodical, detailed case, Hasan raised few objections and asked almost no questions on cross-examination.
"The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter," Hasan said in an opening statement that lasted little more than a minute. The evidence, he added, would "only show one side."
Hasan, an American-born Muslim who was paralyzed after being shot by officers responding to the attack, said he was as a soldier who switched sides in what he described as a war between America and his Islamic faith. He then fell silent for most of the day.
Among the witnesses he did not question Tuesday was Lunsford, one of more than 30 people wounded in the deadliest attack on a U.S. military installation.
Prosecutors asked Lunsford to show the 13 jurors where Hasan had shot him. The tall, imposing retired soldier, who told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he still has nightmares about the attack, slowly got to his feet and pointed to each spot on his body where Hasan's bullets hit him.
Lunsford talked about playing dead, hoping that Hasan wouldn't attack him again, before deciding to flee when he realized he was perspiring.
"When I'm laying there, I do a self-assessment on myself, because I realize that dead men don't sweat," Lunsford said.
Hasan, who wore green Army fatigues and a gray, bushy beard, looked forward impassively throughout the testimony.
When Lunsford was excused from the stand, the two men did not appear to acknowledge each other as Lunsford walked past him and out of the courtroom.
Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder, and faces the death penalty if convicted. He has wanted to plead guilty to murder and attempted murder, but military rules forbid guilty pleas in death penalty cases.
Hasan had wanted to argue that he carried out the shooting in "defense of others," namely members of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan, but the judge denied that strategy. His defense strategy still remains unclear.
During Tuesday's testimony, he occasionally took notes on a legal pad. While two defense attorneys remain on stand-by, Hasan rarely turned to them for advice.
No American soldier has been executed since 1961, and military prosecutors showed that they would take no chance of fumbling details that could jeopardize any conviction down the line.
They described a calculating Hasan, armed with two handguns and carrying paper towels in his pants pockets to conceal the sounds of rattling ammunition as he walked through a deployment-readiness center on the sprawling base.
Employees at a local weapons store described how Hasan bought the pistol he used in the shooting -- and took cellphone video of people instructing him how to clean it.
Hasan spent time at a shooting range and purchased a pistol and extender kit to hold more ammunition before carrying out his plan to "kill as many soldiers as he could" while avoiding civilians, Col. Steve Henricks told jurors in his opening statement.
"He came to believe he had a jihad duty to murder his fellow soldiers," Henricks said, adding that Hasan had researched Taliban leaders' call to wage holy war.
The shooting happened about three weeks after Hasan learned he would be deployed to Afghanistan. Upon getting the orders that he was going overseas, Hasan told a doctor that, "They've got another thing coming if they think they are going to deploy me," Henricks said.
On the day of the attack, Hasan sat among his fellow soldiers who were preparing to go overseas. He tried to clear the area of civilians, even walking over to a civilian data clerk to tell her she was needed elsewhere in the building because a supervisor was looking for her. The prosecutor said the clerk thought that was odd but went anyway.
"He then yelled, `Allahu akbar!' and opened fire on unarmed, unsuspecting and defenseless soldiers," Henricks told the jury. "Allahu akbar!" is an Arabic phrase meaning "God is great."
The long-delayed trial was years in the making after judges in the case had granted a series of delays. A fight over Hasan's beard, which violates military regulations, led to a stay shortly before his trial was expected to begin last year and eventual replacement of the judge.
The trial is playing out amid high security at Fort Hood, where armed guards stood in doorways and 15-foot stacks of shock-absorbing barriers obscured the view of the courthouse. Jurors were told to prepare for a trial that could take months, and Hasan, who is in a wheelchair, needs regular breaks.