Fort Hood shooting jury recommends death penalty for Nidal Hasan
FORT HOOD, Tex. (CNN) — A military jury on Wednesday recommended the death penalty for convicted Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan, for the 2009 massacre on the Army base that left 13 people dead and 32 others wounded.
The 13-member panel deliberated for 2½ hours, and the president of the jury — or foreman– announced the finding in open court with a clear voice, that Hasan “be put to death.”
The convicted killer said nothing as the decision was announced, and had appeared emotionless earlier in the morning when dramatic closing arguments in the sentencing phased were held without his participation.
Hasan serves as his own attorney and his refusal to mount a vigorous defense, or to offer any mitigating evidence to blunt a capital sentence, may have made the panel’s unanimous decision less complicated or agonizing.
The judge quickly accepted the verdict, and the matter now goes to the “convening authority” — an Army general who will review the four-week court-martial proceedings and make the binding decision whether to accept the guilty verdict and capital sentence. It is a process that could take a few more months, and only then will the verdicts become official.
The convening authority has the option of reducing the sentence to life in prison without parole. The defendant will then have the right to appeal through the military justice system.
Hasan will at some point be transferred to military death row in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to join five other condemned prisoners. The president of the United States would sign any death warrant, and the execution would take place at a federal correctional facility in Terre Haute, Indiana.
The 13-member panel of senior officers heard 45 minutes of emotional closing arguments from the government, but Hasan, as he has throughout much of the proceedings, offered no justification or explanation, saying only, “I have no closing statement.”
The prosecution lawyer presented personal vignettes of all 13 victims killed and urged the panel to ignore Hasan’s earlier statement that he was willing to die in custody as a “martyr” for his faith.
“He will never be a martyr, because he has nothing to give,” Col. Michael Mulligan said in an even voice. “He is a criminal, a cold-blooded murderer. He is not giving his life; we are taking his life.”
Inside the courtroom, widows and mothers wiped tears from their eyes throughout. Hasan remained emotionless, looking mainly at photos of victims on his monitor during closing, occasionally glancing at Mulligan addressing the panel.
He stroked his beard and wiped his nose repeatedly with a tissue.
Outside of brief comments at the beginning of the court-martial four weeks ago, where he admitted being the lone gunman that left 13 people dead and 31 others wounded, the defendant has not put on much of a case.
That left the government alone Wednesday to summarize the incident and the impact on the survivors, families of victims, and Fort Hood community.
“Death. He was trained as doctor to save lives, but on 5 November 2009, he only dealt in death,” Mulligan said. The prosecutor tied the narrative together with a unifying theme: the separate teams of two officers in Class-A uniforms who knocked on the doors of the victim’s families across the country to deliver the sad news.
Mulligan also recounted graphic details of the carnage inside Station 13, Room 42003 of the medical readiness center, where the victims were preparing for their military deployments overseas.
Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, 55, was shot four times and, from her nursing training, knew she was dying from internal bleeding. “She had just a few minutes to pass on one final message: ‘Tell my family I love them.'”
For the widow of Spc. Jason Hunt, the subsequent emotional pain has been tough. “Grief is a personal emotion,” Mulligan said. “Hers led her to the depths of suicide and back.” Jennifer Hunt told the panel Monday she is raising her three children alone.
Hasan had indicated he wanted his service record, his lack of a previous criminal record and his psychological evaluations kept under wraps. Speaking in a clear voice from his wheelchair, Hasan dismissed the ex parte actions by his “overzealous defense counsel.”
After weeks of mostly silence in his defense, Hasan had little more to say this week in the capital sentencing phase of his court-martial, telling the jury panel Tuesday three short words: “The defense rests.”
His brief remarks produced a gasp in the courtroom.
The panel of senior officers last week convicted the defendant on all counts of premeditated murder from the incident at the deployment processing center on this sprawling U.S. Army base. Hasan was wounded in the attacks and remains a paraplegic.
The bearded defendant called no witnesses and presented no documentary evidence on why he should not die for his crimes. He also offered no explanation for his refusal to mount any defense in either the trial or sentencing phases. Judge Tara Osborn, an Army colonel, reluctantly granted his wishes, again telling Hasan, “You’re the captain of your own ship.”
The prosecution noted the heroism of three victims, whose despite their wounds, tried to charge the gunman. Civilian employee Michael Cahill was shot six times but managed to fling a chair at Hasan before succumbing. Capt. John Gaffaney, 54, and Spc. Frederick Greene, 29, were also cited.
Greene was shot a dozen times, more than any victim. “What infuriated his murderer so much that he nearly emptied half his clip” on one soldier, Mulligan said. “He died in dynamic engagement.”
Greene leaves behind a wife and two daughters.
By Bill Mears
CNN’s Ed Lavandera and Jason Morris contributed to this report.