Testimony Begins In Fort Hood Shooting
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
To Fort Hood, Texas, now, where victims of last November's shooting rampage are giving gripping testimony about that attack. Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. This hearing will determine whether he'll face a court martial. If found guilty, he could be executed.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn is at Fort Hood. And Wade, this is the first time we've heard from victims of what was, obviously, a terrifying ordeal. Tell me a little bit about who we heard from today.
WADE GOODWYN: Well, the first witness was a 6-foot-9 non-commissioned officer, Sergeant Alonzo Lunsford. That day, Major Nidal Hasan was being processed, getting ready to deploy overseas. The processing center was packed with hundreds of soldiers.
Lunsford saw Hasan stand, walk to the front of the room, pull out a laser-sighted pistol, yell Allahu Akbar and open fire. It was quick and steady bam, bam, bam.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Michael Cahill was incorrectly referred to as a doctor. He was a physician assistant.]
A doctor, 64-year-old Michael Cahill, came out from one of the examination rooms, picked up a chair by the legs and advanced on Hasan, but he was shot and killed by Hasan before he could get there.
After that, Lunsford decided to make a break for the back door, but Hasan spotted him. And Lunsford testified that he saw the laser sight rake across his face, and then Hasan shot him in the left eye. But the sergeant was able to get up and make a run for the back door again. But Hasan followed him out and began shooting in his direction. And the bravery that was exhibited this day was amazing.
Two soldiers saw what was happening. They ran toward the shooter to come to Lunsford's aid. They threw their bodies over the sergeant, and then they grabbed a tarp and dragged the 6-foot-9 Lunsford behind a truck. He was shot five times - once in the head, four shots to the body - but he lived to give absolutely riveting testimony today.
KELLY: Wow, it sounds like riveting but awful testimony today. And I understand Major Hasan himself was there. He was shot and paralyzed, but I understand he was there today. What was his reaction; could you tell?
GOODWYN: Well, he reacted mostly to Sergeant Lunsford's testimony. I mean, they locked eyes several times. But mostly, Hasan kind of stared unseeing into the distance, not wanting to engage.
KELLY: What kind of defense are Major Hasan and his lawyers mounting?
GOODWYN: Well, given the kind of eyewitness testimony, you know, there's not a whole lot they can do. They're trying to focus on avoiding the death penalty, and trying to build some sort of foundation for mitigating circumstances. But it was really hard for me to see, during their cross-examinations, how they were helping him much. I don't think they were today, very much.
KELLY: Oh, that strategy's still unfolding. One other piece of testimony I want to ask you about, and that's a piece of 911 tape that was played in today's hearing.
GOODWYN: Yes, Michelle Harper was a blood lab technician. She was hiding under the reception desk. Several others piled on top of her. She called 911, and was on the phone with the operator for 13 minutes.
And it was horrible. I mean, you can hear screaming and crying. The moaning of a dying soldier next to her is clearly audible. And for it was just too much for Harper. She hung her head and began to sob uncontrollably during the playing of the tape.
The judge had to stop the proceedings and remove her so they could continue to play the tape, and then they brought her back to complete the testimony. It was all in all, a pretty amazing morning.
KELLY: Awful stuff there, and I understand dozens more witnesses who will be testifying as this continues. Thanks very much, Wade.
GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.
KELLY: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn, reporting from Fort Hood, Texas.
Correction Oct. 15, 2010
We mistakenly reported that Fort Hood shooting victim Michael G. Cahill was a doctor. Cahill was a physician assistant.