FORT HOOD, Texas – In the weeks before the deadly Fort Hood rampage, an Army psychiatrist repeatedly visited a firing range to hone his skills with his new laser-equipped semiautomatic handgun by shooting at the heads on silhouette targets, witnesses told a military hearing Thursday.
Maj. Nidal Hasan bought an FN 5.7 semiautomatic handgun on Aug. 1, a few weeks after he entered the store and made "an interesting request ... for the most high-tech weapon we had," said Fredrick Brannon, a former Guns Galore employee. He said Hasan seemed to have little knowledge of guns at that point.
The Article 32 hearing will determine whether Hasan will stand trial on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder for the Nov. 5 rampage at the Texas Army post.
Col. James Pohl, the investigating officer in the case, delayed the hearing after prosecutors finished presenting evidence and set it to resume Nov. 15, when defense attorneys will say whether they'll present any evidence. They sought the delay so a defense expert can complete a psychiatric evaluation of their American-born Muslim client.
Hasan was shot by police officers during last year's rampage, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. He's been attending the hearing in a wheelchair. Hasan remains jailed, as the military justice system does not have bail.
In court Thursday, prosecutors showed footage they said Hasan recorded on his cell phone of the gun store manager in nearby Killeen demonstrating how to use the gun — including reloading and cleaning it. The footage does not show Hasan, but he can be heard saying, "OK," in the background several times as the manager — who did not testify — gave him detailed instructions.
John Choats, part owner of Stan's Outdoor Shooting Range and a certified shooting instructor, said Hasan completed a concealed handgun class Oct. 10 and purchased a membership at the shooting range in Florence, about 20 miles south of Killeen. Hasan returned once or twice a week, doing long-range shooting with an FN 5.7 gun at the rifle range, Choats said.
Hasan chose silhouette targets rather than bullseye targets, aiming at the head and chest from 100 yards away, and began to improve his accuracy, Choats said.
"Most of the time in training it's (aiming for) entirely center mass, the chest and abdominal (region)," Choats said, when asked by a defense attorney whether he noticed anything unusual about the target practice.
During seven days of testimony, 56 witnesses testified, including more than two dozen soldiers wounded in the rampage in a medical building where soldiers get vaccines and other medical tests before deployment. Many witnesses said a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform stood near the front door, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — "God is great!" in Arabic — then opened fired in a crowded waiting area.
He kept firing rapidly, pausing only to reload, and shot people as they hid under tables or curled up in chairs — even shooting soldiers after they fled outside. Investigators found 146 shell casings inside and another 68 outside — and some 177 unused rounds of ammunition in Hasan's pockets after he was shot.
Brannon also said Thursday that after buying the gun, Hasan returned to the store every week or two and bought boxes of ammunition — up to eight boxes a week that cost $23.99 per box of 50 bullets. He said Hasan also bought extensions for ammunition clips, boosting the capacity to 30 rounds.
Brannon said he was curious about Hasan's purchases and once asked him about it.
"He said he didn't like spending time loading magazines when he was at the range," Brannon said. "He wanted to shoot when he was at the range, so he would load them at night while he was watching TV during the week."
The bullets Hasan bought were taken off the market by authorities over concerns that they may penetrate body armor, but stores continued selling them until the supply ran out, Brannon said.
Brannon and Choats both identified Hasan in court.
"That would be the gentleman in the wheelchair," Brannon said.
Pohl, the investigating officer in the case, will at some point after the hearing recommend whether Hasan should go to trial, though the decision ultimately will be made by Fort Hood's commanding general.
(This version corrects James Pohl's title to Colonel, instead of Lieutenant Colonel.)