Sentencing looms for convicted Fort Hood gunman

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 1:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 1:53pm

Tuesday could be the last chance for convicted gunman Major Nidal Hasan to tell a jury his version of the November 2009 shooting rampage that killed 13 people and wounded 31 others, many of them unarmed soldiers, at Fort Hood, Texas.

Once family members of the victims finish testifying in the sentencing phase of the court-martial for Hasan, convicted of 45 counts of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder, he will have an opportunity to address the jury deciding his fate.

Hasan could face execution. The same jury of 13 military officers that convicted him is now considering his punishment.

If he chooses to speak, he will not be questioned nor interrupted by the prosecution, according to military court procedure.

Hasan, 42, who uses a wheelchair after being paralysed when shot by police upon his arrest, has spoken very little during the trial, objecting less than a handful of times.

The most Hasan has said was in his opening statement on August 6, when he admitted to being the gunman and said he had switched sides in what he considered to be a US war on Islam. Hasan opened fire at the US Army base in central Texas, one of the largest in the nation, just weeks before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan.

On Monday, when a dozen witnesses testified about the impact of the slaughter on their lives, Hasan, who has acted as his own defence lawyer during the court-martial and penalty phase, spoke in a quiet voice, declining to cross examine any of them.

During the trial, Hasan, a psychiatrist, did not call any witnesses on his behalf. Showdowns that had been feared between Hasan and victims of the shooting failed to materialize.

On Monday, witnesses included a US Army staff sergeant who said the shooting left him partly paralysed, brain damaged and severely depressed and a young widow who has tried twice to commit suicide.

“Eventually I will succumb to my wounds,” Staff Sergeant Patrick Ziegler testified. “I won’t be able to function.”

If the jury unanimously recommends death as his punishment, Hasan could face lethal injection, possibly making him the first US soldier to be executed by the US military since 1961.

An American-born Muslim, Hasan told mental health evaluators he wanted to become a martyr and lawyers assisting him said he was actively seeking the death penalty, though Hasan has disputed that claim.

Judge Colonel Tara Osborn has repeatedly reminded Hasan that military-appointed lawyers can represent him but he has declined, choosing instead to represent himself.

Twelve of the dead were active-duty soldiers and one was retired. Of the 31 wounded, 30 were soldiers and one a police officer. Hasan also was charged with shooting at another police officer and missing.

A death sentence by Hasan’s jury would trigger a lengthy process requiring the approval of the Fort Hood commanding general, and the president of the United States, in order for there to be an execution.

If he is sentenced to death, Hasan would become the sixth man on death row at the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a maximum security facility for military prisoners.