Jury given time amid rapid pace of Fort Hood trial
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Testimony has been moving so quickly during the military trial of the soldier accused in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage that the judge decided to give jurors extra time between witnesses on Monday to finish their notes.
Maj. Nidal Hasan is acting as his own attorney during the trial at the Texas military base, where he is accused of killing 13 people and injuring more than 30 others in November 2009. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
But he has mostly sat silent during the trial, enabling prosecutors to call more than 60 witnesses in just four days.
Witness after witness — many of them soldiers shot during the attack — described how Hasan opened fire inside a Fort Hood building, leaving it scattered with blood and the dead. Yet Hasan has questioned just two witnesses and raised only a few brief objections, and many witnesses were on the stand for 20 minutes or less.
The rapid pace raises the possibility that prosecutors may wrap up far sooner than the months-long timeline the judge initially said was possible for the trial. On Monday, she started taking brief breaks so jurors could finish their notes after each witness.
“Just look up when you’re ready. Take as much time as you need,” the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, said.
So far, witnesses have built a gory, detailed picture about what happened the afternoon of Nov. 5, 2009. They’ve said a gunman shouted “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” — and opened fire on unarmed soldiers, many of whom were getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan.
A nurse working at the center, Ted Coukoulis, recalled people trying to save wounded soldiers who were dead or quickly bleeding to death.
“I don’t know how much blood I swallowed that day,” he told jurors on Monday.
Many of the wounded soldiers thought the gunfire was a training exercise, and some didn’t realize it was an attack until they were hit by bullets. Spc. Joseph Foster testified that he recalled thinking, “Those paintballs are looking really real.”
Spc. Jonathan Sims also took the stand Monday, telling jurors how he was shot while trying to protect another soldier whose neck he was holding to try to stop the bleeding.
Sims then echoed earlier testimony when he said he heard a wounded soldier crying out, “My baby! My baby!” One of the soldiers who was killed, Pvt. Franceska Velez, was pregnant.
A total of 18 witnesses testified Monday, and Hasan didn’t question any of them.
The Army psychiatrist did, however, indicate that he was enlisting the help of his standby attorneys, who have been ordered to help him during the trial. Hasan told Osborn that he had assigned “some tasks” to one of them and wanted the judge to let the lawyer skip court for the day.
“It would be in my best interest if he used that time to prepare for that,” Hasan said, and Osborn agreed.
It was among the few hints that Hasan has offered about his defense since his brief opening statement last week, when he acknowledged that evidence would show he was the shooter and described himself as a soldier who “switched sides.” He indicated before trial that he would call just two witnesses.
His standby defense attorneys have protested that Hasan was putting up a defense that guarantees him the death penalty.
The attorneys asked Osborn to scale back their responsibilities to help Hasan or to allow them to take over his defense, but Osborn refused. The attorneys have said they would appeal Osborn’s denial, though no appeal had been filed as of early afternoon Monday at the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
Prosecutors indicated they would begin calling expert witnesses Tuesday.