FORT HOOD, Texas — A US soldier who captured a deadly 2009 rampage at Fort Hood with his cell phone camera testified Friday that he was ordered to erase the video by his commanders.
The video could have provided key evidence at the trial of Major Nidal Hasan, a US Army psychiatrist who faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.
But it may not be necessary for prosecutors. They presented more than two dozen witnesses who identified Hasan as the shooter, in the first three days of what is expected to be a lengthy hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for a court martial.
The November 5, 2009 rampage shocked the nation and military officials have faced intense criticism for missing an array of warning signs about the accused shooter.
Hasan, 40, has been tied to Islamic extremism, including contact with a radical cleric now in Yemen who blessed the killing spree.
While the US Army has not said whether it will seek the death penalty, lead defense attorney John Galligan has said he faces an uphill battle to save his client's life.
Private Lance Aviles, who shot the video, described a scene of stupefaction, followed by the shocked realization that the crowded army deployment center in Texas was under attack.
"There was a loud shout, 'Allahu akbar,' and then gunshots," Aviles said.
Like others who testified before him, Aviles said he initially thought the shooting was a training exercise. Then he saw friends and fellow soldiers lying on the floor in pools of blood.
One soon died of a bullet wound to the head, he said.
Aviles said he looked up from the floor and tried to tackle the shooter once he saw that the gun's magazine had dropped to the ground.
"I'm trying to take a left turn to go toward the shooter, and when I took that left turn he had already reloaded," Aviles testified.
The witness then ran out the front door, passing soldiers rushing in to help those who had been injured.
Defense attorney Galligan asked Aviles if he had taken a video of the shooting with his cell phone and if he deleted the footage at the instruction of his superiors.
"Yes, sir," Aviles replied.
Neither Galligan nor prosecutors asked about what the video showed and Aviles did not describe what the two files contained.
It wasn't immediately clear if military authorities had investigated the video deletion incident, or if they would. In US civilian courts, destruction of evidence can be a crime.
One of at least four people who tried to stop Hasan before he was finally brought down by base police was among the 10 witnesses who testified Friday.
Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Royal gave a chilling account of being hunted down by Hasan outside the deployment center.
Royal escaped out a door and then saw Hasan follow a badly wounded soldier outside and shoot him until he fell face down in the grass.
Royal went to a corner of the deployment center and looked for a way to pounce on the gunman.
But instead, he said, "as I'm going to the building he comes adjacent to the other side and sees me again, and he starts firing at me."
Royal ran to a sport utility vehicle and took cover. Hasan bore down on him, squeezing off rounds.
"I felt something jump me in the back, but I wasn't sure what it was," he said.
Then he started bleeding.
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