Soldier Sentenced to Death for Fort Hood Shooting

By: Michael Graczyk, Associated Press
By: Michael Graczyk, Associated Press

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) A military court sentenced Maj. Nidal Hasan to death on Wednesday for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, giving the Army psychiatrist what he believed would be a path to martyrdom in the attack on unarmed fellow soldiers.

The American-born Muslim, who has said he acted to protect Islamic insurgents abroad from American aggression, never denied being the gunman. In opening statements, he acknowledged to the jury that he pulled the trigger in a crowded waiting room where troops were getting final medical checkups before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The same jurors who convicted Hasan last week had just two options: either agree unanimously that Hasan should die or watch the 42-year-old get an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.

Hasan had no visible reaction when the verdict was read, staring first at the jury forewoman and then the judge. Officials said he will be taken back to a county jail and then transported on the first available military flight to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. The timing on the flight wasn't immediately clear.

Hasan could become the first American soldier executed in more than half a century. But because the military justice system requires a lengthy appeals process, years or even decades could pass before he is put to death.

The lead prosecutor assured jurors that Hasan would "never be a martyr" despite his attempt to tie the attack to religion.

"He is a criminal. He is a cold-blooded murderer," Col. Mike Mulligan said Wednesday in his final plea for a rare military death sentence. "This is not his gift to God. This is his debt to society. This is the cost of his murderous rampage."

For nearly four years, the federal government has sought to execute Hasan, believing that any sentence short of a lethal injection would deny justice to the families of the dead and the survivors who had believed they were safe behind the gates of the Texas base.

And for just as long, Hasan has seemed content to go to the death chamber for his beliefs. He fired his own attorneys to represent himself, barely put up a defense during a three-week trial and made almost no effort to have his life spared.

Mulligan reminded the jury that Hasan was a trained doctor yet opened fire on defenseless comrades. He "only dealt death," the prosecutor said, so the only appropriate sentence is death.

He was never allowed to argue in front of the jury that the shooting was necessary to protect Islamic and Taliban leaders from American troops. During the trial, Hasan leaked documents to journalists that revealed him telling military mental health workers in 2010 that he could "still be a martyr" if executed.

When Hasan began shooting, the troops were standing in long lines to receive immunizations and doctors' clearance. Thirteen people were killed and more than were 30 wounded. All but one of the dead were soldiers, including a pregnant private who curled on the floor and pleaded for her baby's life.

The attack ended only when Hasan was shot in the back by an officer responding to the shooting. Hasan is now paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair.

The military called nearly 90 witnesses at the trial and more during the sentencing phase. But Hasan rested his case without calling a single person to testify in his defense and made no closing argument. Even with his life at stake during the sentencing hearing, he made no attempt to question witnesses and gave no final statement to jurors.

Death sentences are rare in the military, which has just five other prisoners on death row. The cases trigger a long appeals process. And the president must give final authorization before any service member is executed. No American soldier has been executed since 1961.

Hasan spent weeks planning the Nov. 5, 2009, attack, including buying the handgun and videotaping a sales clerk showing him how to change the magazine.

He later plunked down $10 at a gun range outside Austin and asked for pointers on how to reload with speed and precision. An instructor said he told Hasan to practice while watching TV or sitting on his couch with the lights off.

When the time came, Hasan stuffed paper towels in the pockets of his cargo pants to muffle the rattling of extra ammo and avoid arousing suspicion. Soldiers testified that Hasan's rapid reloading made it all but impossible to stop him. Investigators recovered 146 shell casings in the medical building and dozens more outside, where Hasan shot at the backs of soldiers fleeing toward the parking lot.

In court, Hasan never played the role of an angry extremist. He didn't get agitated or raise his voice. He addressed the judge as "ma'am" and occasionally whispered "thank you" when prosecutors, in accordance with the rules of evidence, handed Hasan red pill bottles that rattled with bullet fragments removed from those who were shot.

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FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) - Military jurors sentenced Maj. Nidal Hasan to death on Wednesday for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood. Last week, the same jury found Hasan guilty of killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 others at the Texas military base. Here is a look at some key details about the case:

WHAT DID JURORS CONVICT HASAN OF?

Hasan was convicted of 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted premeditated murder under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

WHY DID THE CASE TAKE SO LONG TO GET TO TRIAL?

Judges in the case granted a series of delays for preparation or other issues, often at the request of Hasan or his attorneys. A fight over Hasan's beard, which violates military regulations, led to a reprieve shortly before the trial was expected to begin last year and the eventual replacement of the judge. Legal experts have said authorities are doing their best to avoid mistakes, noting that Hasan would have multiple mandatory appeals after being sentenced to death. Military appeals courts have overturned most death sentences they've seen in the last three decades.

WHAT DID FAMILY MEMBERS OF THOSE KILLED TELL JURORS?

Dozens of family members and survivors of the Nov. 5, 2009, attack testified about their overwhelming grief and attempts at recovery during the sentencing part of the trial. Angela Rivera said one of the saving graces after her husband, Maj. Eduardo Caraveo, was killed was his voicemail greeting, and for years she had his cellphone kept active so she could call it and hear his voice. Shoua Her recalled how she and her husband, Pfc. Kham Xiong, talked about growing old together and having more children. Now, she said, her children know their slain father only through memories or stories. Staff Sgt. Patrick Ziegler told jurors he was shot four times and underwent emergency surgery that removed about 20 percent of his brain. He is now paralyzed on his left side, unable to use his left hand, and blind spots in both eyes prevent him from driving.

WHAT DID HASAN SAY?

Hasan acted as his own attorney but called no witnesses in his defense and has said very little throughout the trial. During the penalty phase, he did not present any evidence and rested his case without testifying. Hasan had wanted to argue that he carried out the shooting in "defense of others" - namely, Taliban insurgents fighting American soldiers in Afghanistan - but the judge denied that strategy before the trial started. One of the few times Hasan spoke to jurors was during the trial's first day more than three weeks ago. He said during a brief opening statement that the evidence would "clearly show" he was the gunman, but that it wouldn't tell the whole story.

WHAT IS HASAN'S PHYSICAL CONDITION?

Hasan was shot in the back by officers responding to the shootings. He is paralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair, uses a catheter and wears adult diapers. His doctor testified earlier this year that Hasan cannot sit upright for more than 12 hours a day without his concentration being affected. His disabilities haven't appeared to be an issue in the courtroom. He did not ask for as many breaks during trial as his doctor suggested he would need before trial. Hasan has been transported from jail to Fort Hood each day by military helicopter.

IS HASAN STILL CONSIDERED A SOLDIER?

Yes. He has retained his rank of major and his salary even in jail. He wore a green camouflage uniform in court, instead of the dress uniform defendants typically wear in a court-martial. The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, has said the camouflage uniform was easier for Hasan to wear as a paraplegic.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Before an execution date would be set, the death sentence will face years, if not decades, of appeals. It would need to be affirmed by Fort Hood's convening authority, which would prompt automatic appeals at two military courts for the Army and then the armed forces, said Victor Hansen, a military law expert at the New England School of Law. If those fail, Hasan could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case and file motions in federal court. The U.S. president must eventually approve a military death sentence. Many death row inmates have had their sentences overturned on appeal, and no active-duty soldier has been executed in the military system since 1961.


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