Nidal Hasan's attorneys still trying to leave case

Hasan trial: A suicide mission?

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Story highlights

  • Maj. Nidal Hasan's standby attorneys are appealing order to stay on case
  • The prosecution is going through more than 40 witnesses in two days
  • Hasan faces a death sentence if convicted of 13 killings and 32 attempted murder counts
  • Hasan has admitted being the shooter in the 2009 rampage at Fort Hood

Maj. Nidal Hasan's three standby attorneys made clear Friday they're still trying to leave the case, despite a military judge's earlier ruling keeping them on the job.

As the admitted Fort Hood gunman's trial reconvened Friday morning, two of the attorneys asked to be excused so they could work on asking a higher court to overrule Judge Col. Tara Osborn's decision.

Osborn allowed Maj. Christopher Martin and Maj. Joseph Marcee to leave the court while the third attorney, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, remained with Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32 others in a November 2009 shooting rampage at the Army post near Killeen, Texas.

The three attorneys had asked on Wednesday to drop out of the case, saying they believed Hasan -- who is representing himself but has the three attorneys as backup -- was trying to help the prosecution achieve a death sentence.

But Osborn ruled Thursday that they must continue, saying it was "nothing more than their disagreement with Hasan's strategy in conducting his defense."

With Martin and Marcee away from the courtroom Friday, prosecutors continued a brisk march through the witness list, planning to call 17 more people for testimony -- among them, a number of wounded survivors of the massacre.

By the end of Friday, prosecutors had called 48 of their 80 witnesses in three days -- a fast pace enabled in part by Hasan's declining to cross-examine anyone in the first two days.

Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who was paralyzed by a police bullet during the rampage, admitted at the start of the trial Tuesday that he was the shooter at the Fort Hood medical building where soldiers were being prepared for deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq.

If convicted, he could face the death penalty. In a military capital trial, a guilty plea is not an option.

A U.S.-born citizen of Palestinian descent, Hasan had been scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan before the killings. Prosecutors allege the devout Muslim had undergone a "progressive radicalization," giving presentations in defense of suicide bombings and about soldiers conflicted between military service and their religion when such conflicts result in crime.

Hasan did not want to deploy to fight against other Muslims and believed "that he had a jihad duty to kill as many soldiers as possible," Col. Michael Mulligan, the lead prosecutor in the case, said during opening statements.

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Investigations that followed the Fort Hood killings found Hasan 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 was delayed repeatedly, notably over a previous judge's unsuccessful demand that the beard Hasan has grown while in custody be forcibly shaved.

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Prosecution witnesses have painted a horrific picture of what unfolded inside the deployment processing center on the morning of November 5, 2009, as soldiers and civilians prepared to leave for Afghanistan and Iraq.

Spec. Logan Barnett told the court his initial thought when he heard the shooting and the screams was that it was a training exercise because of a deadly shooting earlier at a mental health clinic at Iraq's Camp Victory.

"As the shots continued being fired repeatedly, the room filled with the smell of gunpowder and blood," Barnett said.

Barnett dropped to the ground for cover, and then saw a friend, Staff. Sgt. Shawn Manning, take a shot to the chest and fall.

"Chaos. Horror. There was nothing but people falling down," he said.

Barnett began to crawl toward nearby cubicles for cover.

"I was crawling over the bodies of people who weren't moving," Barnett said. "There was a soldier with the back side of his head blown off."

Amid the killing, there were moments of heroism.

Barnett told the court how he saw Capt. John Gaffney get up from the floor with a folding chair to attack the shooter.

"He was shot and killed in front of me," said Barnett, who picked up a folding table to throw at the shooter as he reloaded.

"I stood up, charged and prepared to throw the table."

But by then the shooter had reloaded and pointed his gun at Barnett, shooting him in the head.

Barnett told the court he managed to crawl toward the cubicle, even as Hasan shot him three more times.

Two soldiers hiding under a desk offered him aid.

"I told the two soldiers, 'We can't stay here and die,'" he said. "I told them to go, to run through the south entrance and not look back until they found help."

Barnett used his body to act as a shield as the two soldiers made a run for it.

Then, according to Barnett, he started to crawl over broken glass and bodies toward another exit.

Barnett made it out of the building on his own before being grabbed by the collar and dragged to safety.

Fort Hood witness on Hasan: 'His punishment will come'

The court-martial was scheduled to resume Monday at 9 a.m. local time.