In a June 4 photo at his home in Lillington, N.C., retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford describes his wounds from the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage. (Chuck Burton/AP)
Key questions about Fort Hood shooting trial
DALLAS – Maj. Nidal Hasan will stand trial in a court-martial that starts Tuesday for the shooting rampage at Fort Hood that left 13 people dead and more than 30 people wounded at the Texas Army post on Nov. 5, 2009. Here are some details about the case so far and what to expect from the trial:
What charges does Hasan face?
Hasan faces 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted premeditated murder under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If convicted, he would face the death penalty.
Why has the case taken so long to prosecute?
Judges in the case have granted a series of delays for preparation or other issues, often at the request of Hasan or his attorneys. A fight over Hasan’s beard, which violates military regulations, led to a stay shortly before the trial was expected to begin last year and the eventual replacement of the judge. Legal experts have said authorities are doing their best to avoid mistakes that could lead to a reversal of any guilty verdict, noting that Hasan would have multiple mandatory appeals if he’s found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Military appeals courts have overturned most death sentences they’ve seen in the last three decades.
What will the victims say at trial?
Many of those wounded in the attack are expected to testify. Some of them have already described that day in open court, during a hearing three years ago to determine whether Hasan would stand trial. One victim, Spc. Alan Carroll, recalled playing dead so Hasan wouldn’t shoot him again. Another, Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, said he remembered a woman shouting about the gunman: “He’s one of ours! He’s one of ours!”
What will Hasan say?
Hasan is representing himself at trial. He wanted to argue that he carried out the shooting in “defense of others” — namely, Muslim insurgents fighting American soldiers in Afghanistan — but the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, denied that strategy. Osborn has also told him that he will not be able to make speeches about his beliefs or try to testify himself when he’s questioning witnesses.
What Is Hasan’s physical condition?
Hasan was shot in the back by officers responding to the shootings. He is now paralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair, uses a catheter and wears adult diapers. His doctor testified earlier this year that Hasan cannot sit upright for more than 12 hours a day without his concentration being affected, requiring testimony to conclude each day by 5 p.m. at the latest since inmates at his jail wake up before dawn. Hasan also requires 15- to 20-minute stretching breaks about every four hours, and has to lift himself off his wheelchair for about a minute every half hour to avoid developing sores.
Is Hasan still considered a soldier?
Yes. He has retained his rank of major and his salary even in jail. Recently, he has worn a camouflage uniform in court instead of the dress uniform defendants typically wear in a court-martial. Osborn has said the camouflage uniform is easier for him to wear as a paraplegic.
How does a military court-martial differ from a civilian criminal trial?
The judge, the prosecutors and the attorneys standing by to help Hasan are military officers, as are the 13 jurors, who range in rank from colonel to major. The jurors must be unanimous to find Hasan guilty of premeditated murder. If that happens, Hasan’s case would quickly proceed to a capital sentencing hearing, where prosecutors try to prove one or more aggravating factors that merit a death sentence. One aggravating factor would be the killing of more than one person in an incident. Jurors must be unanimous to sentence him to death. However, three-quarters of the jury must vote yes to convict Hasan for attempted murder. The military courts system also does not have hung juries: If one of the 13 jurors votes Hasan not guilty of murder, he would be declared not guilty.
What happens if he’s sentenced to death?
The death sentence would need to be affirmed by Fort Hood’s commanding authority, which would prompt automatic appeals at two military courts for the Army and then the armed forces. If those fail, Hasan could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case and file motions in federal court. The U.S. president must eventually approve a military death sentence.
Five condemned soldiers are currently on the military death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. If their cases are any guide, it would likely be decades before Hasan were executed. Many death row inmates have had their sentences overturned on appeal, and no active-duty soldier has been executed in the military system since 1961.
— Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press
LILLINGTON, N.C. – Alonzo Lunsford has trouble getting out of chairs and warns his family to wake him gently. Kathy Platoni can’t shake the image of the man who died in a pool of blood at her knees. Shawn Manning still has two bullets in his body and gets easily unnerved by crowds.
Survivors of the 2009 shooting rampage that claimed the lives of 13 people at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas fight these demons daily.
Now after years of delay, they will come face to face with Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who goes on trial in the attack starting Tuesday. After dismissing his attorneys, Hasan got permission to represent himself, putting him in the unusual position of asking questions of the very people he admits targeting.
Hasan, a Muslim who argues he was protecting the Taliban from American aggression, was shot by a civilian police officer and is now in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the abdomen down.
Manning dreads the courtroom confrontation.
“I have to keep my composure and not go after the guy,” said Manning, a mental health specialist who was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with Hasan. “I’m not afraid of him, obviously. He’s a paralyzed guy in a wheelchair, but it’s sickening that he’s still living and breathing.”
Lunsford — a now-retired staff sergeant who was shot seven times — relishes the thought of staring at Hasan and telling him that he did not win. Like Manning, he carries two bullets with him — one in a small wooden box, the other in his back.
“That man strikes no fear in my heart. He strikes no fear in my family. What he did to me was bad. But the biggest mistake that he made was I survived. So he will see me again,” he said as he sat on his porch in Lillington, rubbing the shiny slug between his fingers.
“I will never show any fear in the face of my enemy,” he added. “Never.”
Platoni just hopes she can keep her composure enough to support the family of Capt. John Gaffaney, the friend and soldier who died next to her.
The families of people who were killed struggle with a roller coaster of emotions, too.
Eduardo Caraveo, whose father, Libardo Eduardo Caraveo, died, took a few weeks of leave from his job as a prison supervisor to deal with his emotions ahead of the trial.
“You’re going to hear stuff ... that you don’t know how you’re going to take,” he said.
Joleen Cahill, whose husband, Mike Cahill, was shot six times after he lifted a chair to try to stop Hasan, has struggled with the loneliness of an empty house. Now she wants to ensure that her anger doesn’t take over during the trial.
“I want to be the one in control here, not him,” she said.
In the large hall where troops were preparing for upcoming deployments, everyone was unarmed. Everyone except Hasan.
Manning, who had gotten married just a few weeks before the shooting, was almost done for the day. Platoni had left the hall and was in a nearby dome-shaped building. Left behind were her friends — including Caraveo — sitting in a row of chairs.
Then in an instant, lives were changed forever.
“I hear someone yell ‘allahu akbar,’” recalled Manning, who had done two previous deployments in Iraq. “Usually something bad is going to follow after that, so I look up at him and he started shooting. He probably fired five or six shots before he shot me in the chest.”
For a moment, Manning thought it was a military drill using paint balls. But then he saw the blood pouring from his chest. People were screaming.
Manning crawled to a nook, trying to take cover. Too many people were there, and Hasan kept shooting him. So he played dead.
Soldiers running into the nearby dome shouted there was an attack. Platoni, thinking of her friends, ran over, trying to get through the doors. But other soldiers were already bringing out the wounded. There was her friend Gaffaney, bleeding to death.
The memories are “there all the time when I’m not otherwise actively engaged in patients or doing gardening,” Platoni said. “It’s something that haunts me constantly.”
About 10 minutes after the shooting started, the horror ended. And another began.
Manning and Lunsford spent weeks in hospitals. Both have since retired from the military. Platoni deployed to Afghanistan barely a month later, setting aside the grief and trauma to do her job.
Manning, who lives in Lacey, Wash., and Lunsford continue to fight for military wages they say they lost when officials ruled that the attack was not a terrorist act and their wounds were not related to combat.
Manning still faces surgery to remove at least one bullet from his thigh and possibly one from his back. A few months ago, he returned to work at Fort Lewis. Platoni still works as a clinical psychologist for the military, as well as in her private life in Centreville, Ohio.
They are no longer relaxed in large crowds. Their tempers are more volatile. When Lunsford is asleep, he needs to be awakened with a gentle tap on his foot — not shaken like other people. Platoni keeps a loaded gun under her desk.
A few hope that Hasan receives the death penalty.
“The same way he tried to kill us. Or, if he wants to be put to death, and he wants to follow Islamic law, then he can be put to death according to Islamic law, which is by stoning,” Lunsford said. “I would love to be the first one, to throw the first pitch. That would be a joy. But we’re better than that as a people. We don’t do that.”
Realistically, Manning says, Hasan may never be put to death. But that may not be a total disappointment.
“Living in a cell, paralyzed for the rest of his life,” he says, “is some sort of justice as well.”
Plushnick-Masti reported from Houston.