By Karen Brooks
FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - Victims of the 2009 Fort Hood massacre told tales of survival on Friday, of living through shots to the head and destroyed organs, crawling with paralyzed legs and running with bullets lodged in their backs, their knees and their feet.
Soldiers testified in the court-martial of U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, who admits killing 13 people and wounding 31 others at the U.S. Army base in Texas on November 5, 2009, just days before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan.
Staff Sergeant Patrick Ziegler said he heard a man scream "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greatest" in Arabic), then saw the red laser sight of Hasan's handgun cross his vision.
"Then a split-second later, it felt like somebody hit me in the head with a metal baseball bat," Ziegler said.
Blood pouring from his head, he managed to crawl a short distance before blacking out. He recalled waking up in an ambulance and telling the paramedic he felt nauseated. Later he discovered he had been shot four times, including once to the right side of his skull.
Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim, told the jury on the opening day of testimony on Tuesday that "I am the shooter" and that he "switched sides" in what he called a U.S. war on Islam.
Another survivor, Staff Sergeant Shawn Manning, said he lay on the ground playing dead, struck by six bullets including one to the chest. He recalled thinking his time was running out.
"I figured that the shooter would finish me off if he saw that I was still alive," Manning said. "At that time I could feel my lung starting to collapse and fill full of fluid, and as a medic I knew that if the scene wasn't safe and if I didn't get medical treatment right away, I would most likely drown in my own blood in my lung."
'THROWING A CHAIR'
Soldiers were unable to fire back because they are prohibited from carrying weapons on base. Military police eventually shot Hasan, who was paralyzed from the waist down and attends court in a wheelchair.
"I had thought about possibly throwing a chair at the shooter, and I saw somebody else do that and watched them get shot, so I decided at that time it wasn't really a smart idea," Staff Sergeant Joy Clark said.
Richard Rosen, law professor at Texas Tech University, said the testimony about how Hasan shot soldiers on the ground, multiple times and as they tried to flee, was apparently the prosecutors' attempt to show that the killings were intentional and premeditated.
"They're going to try to prove by circumstantial evidence that Hasan intended to kill these people," Rosen said. "And the fact that some didn't die was through no fault of Hasan's."
Prosecutors opted against bringing terrorism charges against Hasan, who could face the death penalty if all 13 officers on the jury find him guilty of premeditated murder. The U.S. military has not executed a service member since 1961.
Hasan has not questioned any of the victims or rescuers, allaying concerns about the emotional distress survivors might feel if he cross-examined them.
He interjected once to ask the judge to remind a witness she was under oath, and objected to one witness detailing the extent of his medical care after being shot.
The judge sustained his objection, agreeing the testimony was suitable only for the phase of the trial to determine the penalty, not the guilt or innocence phase.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza and Jana J. Pruet; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Grant McCool and Xavier Briand)