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Forensic experts testify to victims' suffering in U.S. Fort Hood rampage

Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people and wounding 31 in a November 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, is pictured in an undated
Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people and wounding 31 in a November 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, is pictured in an undated

By Eric M. Johnson

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, an American Muslim who faces 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 charges of premeditated attempted murder in the attack at Fort Hood, Texas, has told mental health evaluators that he wanted to become a martyr while carrying out "jihad".

A pathologist, Lieutenant Colonel 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, Private First Class 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.

Private Francheska Velez, then 21 years old and six weeks pregnant, died after a single bullet pierced her back, severed a major vein, "went through the heart" and ended in the right lung, said Dr. AbuBakr Marzouk, another pathologist.

Witnesses said she pleaded for her unborn child's life, screaming "My baby! My baby!"

Another victim, 29-year-old specialist Frederick Greene, of Mountain City, Tennessee, was shot multiple times as he charged the shooter.

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 just days before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan.

'I THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD'

Retired Major Clifford Hopewell, who was Chief of Traumatic Brain Injury and worked in a building near to where Hasan opened fire, testified on Thursday that he ran out of his office when he heard the thunder of bullets and people screaming.

He said he saw bodies strewn outside the building, scooped up a fallen magazine cartridge, and later encountered his psychiatrist colleague, Hasan.

"He was laying prone on the ground and he wasn't moving ... I thought he was dead," said Clifford, who was the first person to officially identify him to authorities.

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 make him a martyr. The prosecution is expected to wrap up early next week.

Hasan, who appears in court in a camouflage military combat uniform with a patch of the American flag on his right shoulder, told the jury on the opening day of the trial on August 6: "I am the shooter."

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.

The military Judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, ended court earlier than planned on Thursday because Hasan told her he had been sitting upright since he woke up at 4 a.m. local time. He has to adjust himself frequently.

"Just let me know anytime you want a break" or are sitting upright for longer than you would like, Osborn said, adding the court had thus far accommodated him.

(Writing by Dina Kyriakidou; Editing by Grant McCool and Ken Wills)

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