FORT HOOD (AP) – Everything had stopped.
Not a whisper, not a cough, not even the sound of someone shuffling in his seat could be heard as Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler, his cane gripped in his right hand and an extensive scar visible across his closely shaved head, carefully made his way to the witness stand.
Then, in a strong though sometimes halting voice, Zeigler described Thursday to a military investigating officer how four gunshots left him the most seriously injured among the survivors of last year’s deadly shootings at Fort Hood.
Maj. Nidal Hasan, 40, an American-born Muslim, has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. Zeigler testified at an Article 32 hearing, a proceeding unique to military justice that will determine if Hasan should stand trial. The hearing was to continue Friday.
Prosecutors have not said whether they’ll seek the death penalty if the case goes to trial.
Zeigler had just returned from his second deployment in Iraq and was at a Fort Hood center to get routine medical tests on Nov. 5, preparing to go to the Army’s Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga. Then he heard someone shout “Allahu Akbar!” — “God is Great!” in Arabic, Zeigler testified.
He said he froze because he knew what that meant. But he thought it was a training drill until he saw a gunman lift a weapon with a laser that moved around the room, the red light crossing Zeigler’s eyes.
“I could see it,” Zeigler said. “I had no sense of time. But I felt like somebody hit me in the side of the head with a metal baseball bat.”
Similar to other witnesses the past two days, Zeigler said he hit the ground after being shot in the head and heard screaming. He said he tried to crawl but eventually lost consciousness.
“I was in serious trouble. There was a pool of my own blood on the ground in front of me,” he said.
Zeigler, who was shot three other times, was hospitalized for months and had surgery to remove about 20 percent of his brain. His left side was paralyzed and he had to learn to use his leg and arm. A shunt installed in his head recently was adjusted at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic by physicians using a magnet.
“I was able to think more clearly, speak easier and, really, just relieved,” he said of the procedure.
Hasan sat in a wheelchair about a dozen feet away. Paralyzed from the waist down from police gunfire that stopped the onslaught, he showed no expression while watching Zeigler testify but at times lowered his head.
Zeigler is the only witness so far in the hearing not questioned by Hasan’s lawyers.
As Zeigler left the witness stand, lead prosecutor Col. Michael Mulligan told Lt. Col. James L. Pohl, the investigating officer presiding over the hearing, that Zeigler would be the final witness Thursday. Pohl raised his hand and told Mulligan to stop speaking until Zeigler left the courtroom.
Earlier Thursday, 1st Lt. Brandy Nicole Mason testified that she was in the processing center when the gunfire broke out and wondered if it was a drill. Even after the gunman pointed a gun at her head when she peered out from her hiding place between some tables, and even after she was shot in the leg, Mason thought it was a drill — until emergency personnel carried her out past the blood, past the bodies.
“I realized this was real,” Mason said. “I said, ‘So he really shot me?’ and they said, ‘Yes ma’am.'”
Staff Sgt. Joy Clark testified that one of two friends with her that day, Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, pulled her to the ground when the gunfire began. Lying on the floor, she called their names, then checked their pulses. Warman and Capt. Russell Seager and had been fatally shot.
Pfc. Najee Hull, shot in the knee and back, said the gunman carried two weapons — one “with a red laser on it” and one with a green laser. All other witnesses this week have testified to seeing only one gun or just hearing gunfire. Initial witness reports said the shooter took some 100 shots at about 300 people at the center.
Hasan remains jailed in Bell County Jail, which houses suspects for nearby Fort Hood. The military justice system does not offer bail.
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