FORT HOOD (WFAA/AP) — A retired staff sergeant, who survived being shot seven times in the massacre at Fort Hood, described a scene of mass panic as the Army psychiatrist accused of the act rained down bullets upon a crowded room on post.
“He pulls the weapon out, and with fist and palm he starts discharging the weapon inside the building,” said retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford. He described the victims, saying, “some are on the ground. Some are trying to hide behind chairs. They are scrambling all around.”
Lunsford was the first victim to take the stand in the trial against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the deadliest mass shooting ever on a U.S. military installation. Tuesday was the first day of his trial. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
Hours before Lunsford testified, Hasan told jurors that evidence would "clearly show" he was the gunman during the attack on Fort Hood, but he insisted it wouldn't tell the whole story.
He briefly laid out his defense as he addressed jurors during the first day of the long-delayed trial for the attack that killed 13 people on the Texas Army post in 2009. Acting as his own attorney, Hasan also cited his religion, but didn't elaborate.
"The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter. Evidence will also show I was on the wrong side, that I switched sides," he said. "We, the Mujahideen, are imperfect Muslims trying to create the perfect religion."
The Mujahideen are followers of Islam who engage in jihad, or holy war.
Hasan also added, "I apologize for any mistakes I made in this endeavor."
Prosecutors then laid out their argument, telling jurors that Hasan deliberately targeted fellow soldiers and meticulously planned to "kill as many soldiers as he could." The jury was told that Hasan had two pistols on his person; one was semi-automatic with two laser sights.
There were 420 rounds in his magazines. Inside the post's Soldier Readiness Processing Center, investigators found 146 spent cartridge casings. Outside, where Hasan was wounded during a gunfight with officers, authorities found another 68 spent casings.
Upon being shot, officers found Hasan with additional ammunition and paper towels, which prosecutors said were used to cushion the sound of the magazines so he would go undetected before the shooting inside the building.
Col. Steve Henricks told jurors that Hasan tried to clear the area of civilians as he walked through and opened fire inside a building where service members were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in 2009.
Henricks described how Hasan entered the building as a civilian data cleric stood at the entrance station and he told her she was needed elsewhere in the building because a supervisor looking for her. The prosecutor said the cleric 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, noting that one of the soldiers who was killed ran after Hasan armed with nothing but a chair.
When Hasan left the building, a civilian approached him and asked what was going on. Hasan told him not to worry about it, and the civilian "walks away from the encounter unscathed," the prosecutor said. Hasan allegedly told another civilian that there was a training exercise going on and he was carrying a paintball gun.
Hasan only shot at one civilian who tried to stop him, Henricks said.
Henricks also said Hasan picked the date of the attack — Nov. 5, 2009 — for a specific reason, though he didn't immediately reveal details.
Hasan is charged with numerous counts of murder and attempted murder for the attack that left 13 people dead. He 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, but over the next several weeks, he is expected to question witnesses and possibly present his own evidence.
The trial seems likely to unfold as a faceoff between the gunman and his victims.
On the witness stand will be many of the more than 30 people who were wounded, plus dozens of others who were inside the post's Soldier Readiness Processing Center. They've also said they saw Hasan shout "Allahu akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — and opened fire on unarmed fellow soldiers.
Hasan did not cross-examine Staff Sgt. Lunsford. He did, however, cross examine his military supervisor and a representative from the Islamic Center of Greater Killeen, where Hasan worshipped.
Pat Sonti, the Islamic Center representative, told the court the morning of the shooting, Hasan came forward and took the microphone from him and announced the call to prayer.
"Afterward, he bid the congregation farewell and told them he was going home," Sonti testified. "I found that a bit odd."
The prosecution also called employees at the gun store where Hasan allegedly purchased the weapons he used.
An FBI analyst testified that agents found few things inside Hasan's 500-square-foot apartment in downtown Killeen. There was a prayer map, a card table, and a paper shredder. Lt. Col. Ben Phillips, Hasan's supervisor, told the court he was "calm and collected" upon learning he would be deployed.
The government has said that Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim, had sent more than a dozen e-mails starting in December 2008 to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Hasan has never denied carrying out the attack, and the facts of the case are mostly settled. But questions abound about how the trial will play out.
How will Hasan question his victims? How will victims respond? How will his health hold up?
The defendant, who was shot in the back by officers responding to the attack, is now paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. He requires 15- to 20-minute stretching breaks about every four hours, and he has to lift himself off his wheelchair for about a minute every half hour to avoid developing sores.
Before the trial began, Staff Sgt. Lunsford said he looked forward to seeing Hasan, in a way.
"I'm not going to dread anything. That's a sign of fear," Lunsford said. "That man strikes no fear in my heart. He strikes no fear in my family. What he did to me was bad. But the biggest mistake that he made was I survived. So he will see me again."
But Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning said he dreaded the expected confrontation.
"I have to keep my composure and not go after the guy," said Manning, a mental health specialist who was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with Hasan. "I'm not afraid of him, obviously. He's a paralyzed guy in a wheelchair, but it's sickening that he's still living and breathing."
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, told jurors to prepare for a trial that could last several months.
On Tuesday, guards stood watch with long assault rifles outside the courthouse. A long row of shipping freight containers, stacked three high, created a fence around the building, which was almost entirely hidden by 15-foot-tall stacks of heavy, shock-absorbing barriers that extend to the roofline.
John Galligan, Hasan's former lead attorney, said Monday that he still keeps in touch with Hasan but wasn't sure what he would say Tuesday, if anything.
Hasan has indicated recently that he still wants his views to be heard. He has released statements to media outlets about his views on the Islamic legal code known as Sharia and how it conflicts with American democracy.
If he is convicted and sentenced to death, it will most likely be decades before he makes it to the death chamber, if at all. The military has not executed an active-duty soldier since 1961. Five men are on the military death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., but none is close to an execution date.
AP National Writer Allen G. Breed and Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti contributed to this report.