Fort Hood Trial: Hasan Acknowledges Evidence Against Him

Day 1 of the court martial of Major Nidal Hasan featured a statement from the former Army psychiatrist. He acknowledged that he was the shooter in the attack that killed 13 and wounded more than 30. The military jury also heard testimony from one of those soldiers wounded.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

The man accused of killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at a Texas military base in 2009 says it's clear he did it. On the first day of his court-martial at Fort Hood, Army Major Nidal Hasan opened his defense by acknowledging the evidence was against him, and he even offered a kind of apology.

NPR's Martin Kaste was in the courtroom yesterday and joins us. Martin, good morning.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So if Nidal Hasan is apologizing in court, does this mean he's pleading guilty?

KASTE: No, he's not allowed to plead guilty. Because under Army rules, this being a capital case, a death penalty case, he's not allowed to plead guilty. So they've entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. But in his opening statement yesterday, he did say, quote, "We are imperfect Muslims trying to establish the perfect religion. I apologize for any mistakes I made in this endeavor." But then he also said that the trial would show what he called one side of the situation. So whether or not you want to see that as an apology, I think is in the ear of the beholder there.

GREENE: Well, Major Hasan is acting as his own lawyer, Martin, which means he's allowed to cross-examine witnesses, and that sets up a, you know, a really interesting situation because he could be cross-examining survivors of the shooting, which sounds like it could be a pretty traumatic scene. Has that happened yet?

KASTE: No, that's the fear but so far it hasn't happened yet. We've only had one actual shooting victim testify so far. Yesterday, retired Staff Sergeant Alonzo Lunsford testified. Lunsford was shot seven times at the Army Readiness Center where this all occurred. He's a really big guy. He's a very imposing presence, especially in his dress uniform yesterday. And on the stand, he stood up and showed the court where those bullets struck him.

He was hit once in the head, six times in his torso. He did this and then he glared at Hasan. But Lunsford was very collected, very military, very proper. But later on, his personal lawyer told me that seeing Hasan in the courtroom, in an Army uniform, was infuriating to Lunsford. The attorney told me it was so enraging to him, that he actually found he'd snapped the stylus that he was supposed to use to draw on a computer touchscreen during his testimony.

GREENE: Wow, appearing collected in the courtroom but that stylus and snapping it, I guess that's just a window into the pain that he was keeping inside.

KASTE: Yeah, very, very stressful I'm sure for him. But he was very military, very proper.

GREENE: Well, has the court heard from other people who actually saw what happened, who were at the scene of the shooting?

KASTE: Yes, there was a woman named Michelle Harper. She had a job at this readiness center drawing blood. And she described how as the shooting started, in this blur of panic, she just ducked for cover under a desk. The prosecutor called it a dog pile of people. She was underneath all those people seeking cover. She called 911 during the shooting and stayed on the line with the dispatcher. And because of that, we have a recording of the scene, an audio recording. And that recording was played in court and she was actually excused while the audio was playing, so she wouldn't have to hear that again.

But we heard the shooting, the screaming, and then the moaning of a dying man right near her, as that phone was connected to 911. It was really awful to listen to, especially with some of those loved ones of some of the victims sitting there in the court at the same time and sharing the room with Hasan.

GREENE: Well, I can imagine, and I guess more to come. I mean what's next - more testimony from victims and other witnesses?

KASTE: Yeah, the prosecutors have a long list of witnesses who will take the stand. The question really now is whether Hasan will be sort of asserting himself legally. It seems right now, from what we've seen so far, he's going to be trying to look for some sort of an opening, legally, for him to vent his religious or ideological beliefs in the context of the court. And he's made a few attempts to do that so far, but the judge shut him down on procedural grounds, and he's backed down.

So far, he's been very polite and very docile to the court. He even volunteered to stipulate to certain facts to the prosecution; sort of just give in on certain facts so they could move on. But legally speaking, he's been very quiet, and this is kind of a one-sided fight from a legal point of view.

GREENE: Yeah, it sounds that way. We've been getting an update on the court-martial of Army Major Nidal Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood shooter from NPR's Martin Kaste. Martin, thanks a lot.

KASTE: You're welcome.

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