FORT HOOD, Texas — The court-martial of admitted Fort Hood gunman Nidal Hasan came to a screeching halt Wednesday as the lawyers assigned to back up his defense asked to withdraw from the case.
On Tuesday, Nidal Hasan made a blunt declaration during his brief opening statement before a panel of 13 senior officers who will decide his fate.
“The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter,” Hasan said Tuesday at the outset of his court-martial. “The evidence presented with this trial will show one side. The evidence will also show that I was on the wrong side. I then switched sides.”
Hasan is charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 on November 5, 2009, at a processing center for soldiers heading to Afghanistan and Iraq. He faces a possible death sentence, if convicted.
Hasan is representing himself, and is expected to cross-examine witnesses as well as possibly testify on his own behalf.
The courtroom turned silent as Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was shot seven times during the rampage, was called to testify. He was the first of several survivors scheduled to testify against Hasan.
Lunsford recounted how the gunman rose from a chair in the processing center, shouted “Allahu Akbar,” pulled out a pistol and began shooting.
“It was a state of panic,” Lunsford said.
Lunsford, a health care specialist, described how his friend and colleague, physician’s assistant Michael Cahill, tried to hit Hasan with a chair to stop the shooting; Hasan shot him dead. Soldiers tried to flee or take cover inside the processing center as Hasan fired dozens of shots.
As Lunsford was checking behind him, “Major Hasan is turning the weapon on me,” he said. “He has a laser on his weapon and it goes across my line of sight and I blink. In that time, he discharges his weapon. The first round, I’m hit in the head.”
A second shot caught Lunsford in the back. He decided to play dead for a while before changing his mind and deciding to run for the door. He made it out of the building but was shot five more times outside, he testified.
Hasan continued shooting at Lunsford even as he was receiving first aid outside the processing center, before police arrived. Officers shot and wounded Hasan, ending the rampage and leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
After the prosecution finished questioning Lunsford, the judge asked Hasan whether he had any questions for the witness.
“I have no questions,” Hasan said.
Investigators found 146 spent shell casings in the room where the attack began, Mulligan said. Hasan carried two laser-sighted pistols and 420 rounds of ammunition, his pockets lined with paper towels to muffle the sounds of the magazines banging together, he said.
Hasan told the panel in his opening statement, “We mujahedeen are trying to establish the perfect religion.” But, he added, “I apologize for the mistakes I made in this endeavor.”
The mujahedeen consider themselves as warriors who defend the Islamic faith.
Hasan told his family he had been taunted after the al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001. Investigations that followed the killings found he had been communicating via e-mail with Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American radical cleric killed by a U.S. drone attack in 2011.
The case was first set to begin in March 2012, but has been delayed repeatedly, notably over a previous judge’s unsuccessful demand that the beard Hasan has grown while in custody be forcibly shaved.
Josh Rubin reported from Fort Hood. CNN’s Jason Morris contributed to this report.