Forensic experts testify to victims' suffering in Fort Hood rampage

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 15, 2013 3:15 PM

By Eric M. Johnson and Lisa Maria Garza

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - Forensic experts testified in graphic detail on Thursday how soldiers suffered when they were shot by an army psychiatrist who has admitted opening fire at a Texas military base in 2009 because he switched sides in what he considered a U.S. war on Islam.

Major Nidal Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim who faces 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 charges of premeditated attempted murder, has told mental health evaluators that he wanted to become a martyr while carrying out "jihad."

A pathologist, Lt. Col. Phillip Berran, told Hasan's court-martial on Thursday that one soldier who tried to charge and stop Hasan was shot 12 times while another, Pfc Aaron Nemelka, 19, the youngest military victim of the attack, suffered intensely as his organs filled with blood.

It was "not an immediately fatal wound," Berran said.

Berran is one of several expert witnesses who have testified this week about crime scene evidence and autopsy analyses of roughly 10 of the 13 victims who were sprayed with bullets, some shot while they were on the floor or elsewhere. More than 70 people have testified so far.

Several witnesses quoted Hasan, 42, as screaming "Allahu akbar" ("God is greatest" in Arabic) as he sprayed gunfire with his laser-sighted handgun on unarmed fellow soldiers on November 5, 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas just days before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan.

Prosecutors opted against bringing terrorism charges. A review by a former FBI director found Hasan had exchanged emails with Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing. Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.

Base policy prohibits soldiers from carrying weapons and military police eventually shot Hasan, who was paralyzed from the waist down. He is acting as his own lawyer, attending court in a wheelchair and rarely cross-examining witnesses. He has raised no objections this week.

Standby defense lawyers assigned to assist Hasan have said they believe he is actively seeking the death penalty. According to a medical report, Hasan told a panel of evaluators he had hoped to die while carrying out "jihad" because it would signal God had designated him as a religious martyr.

Hasan told the jury on the opening day of the trial on August 6: "I am the shooter." Hasan said he "switched sides" in what he considered a U.S. war on Islam.

The 13-member jury of officers must unanimously find Hasan guilty of premeditated murder for him to be sentenced to death. The U.S. military has not executed a service member since 1961.

(Writing by Dina Kyriakidou; Editing by Grant McCool)