FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — A military jury convicted a U.S. Army psychiatrist in the deadly 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, making him eligible for the death penalty in the shocking assault against American troops by one of their own on home soil.
There was never any doubt that Maj. Nidal Hasan was the gunman. He acknowledged to the jury that he was the one who pulled the trigger on fellow soldiers as they prepared to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq. Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 wounded.
Hasan, who said he opened fire on fellow soldiers to protect Muslim insurgents abroad from American aggression, did not react to the verdict, looking straight at jurors as they announced their findings Friday. After the hearing, relatives of the dead and wounded fought back tears. Some smiled and warmly patted each other’s shoulders as they left court.
Because Hasan never denied his actions, the court-martial was always less about a conviction than it was about ensuring he received the death penalty. From the beginning of the case, the federal government has sought to execute Hasan, believing that any sentence short of a lethal injection would deprive the military and the families of the dead of the justice they have sought for nearly four years.
The unanimous decision on all 13 counts of premeditated murder made Hasan eligible for execution in the sentencing phase that begins Monday.
The jurors must all agree to give Hasan the death penalty before he can be sent to the military’s death row, which has just five other prisoners. If they do not agree, the 42-year-old could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Hasan said he planned to continue representing himself in the sentencing phase, even though the military judge, Col. Tara Osborn told him it was unwise to do so.
Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim, said the attack was a jihad against U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He bristled when Osborn suggested the shooting rampage could have been avoided were it not for a spontaneous flash of anger.
“It wasn’t done under the heat of sudden passion,” Hasan said before jurors began deliberating. “There was adequate provocation — that these were deploying soldiers that were going to engage in an illegal war.”
All but one of the dead were soldiers, including a pregnant private who curled on the floor and pleaded for her baby’s life.
John Galligan, Hasan’s former lead attorney, said Hasan called him to make sure he heard the verdict, and the pair planned to meet later at Fort Hood.
Galligan said the jury did not hear all the facts because the judge refused to allow evidence that helped explain Hasan’s actions.
“Right or wrong, strong or weak, the facts are the facts,” he said. “The jury we heard from only got half the facts.”
Hasan was left paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the back by one of the Fort Hood police officers who responded to the rampage. He now uses a wheelchair.
The sentencing phase is expected to begin with more testimony from survivors of the attack inside an Army medical center where soldiers were waiting in long lines to receive immunizations and medical clearance for deployment.
Hasan began the trial by telling jurors he was the gunman. But he said little else over the next three weeks, which convinced his court-appointed standby lawyers that Hasan’s only goal was to get a death sentence.
As the trial progressed, those suspicions grew. The military called nearly 90 witnesses, but Hasan rested his case without calling a single person to testify in his defense and made no closing argument. Yet he leaked documents during the trial to journalists that revealed him telling military mental health workers that he could “still be a martyr” if executed.
Death sentences are rare in the military and trigger automatic appeals that take decades play out. Among the final barriers to execution is authorization from the president. No American soldier has been executed since 1961.
Hasan spent weeks planning the Nov. 5, 2009, attack. His preparation included 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 the shooting. Investigators recovered 146 shell casings inside 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 Osborn as “ma’am” and occasionally whispered “thank you” when prosecutors, in accordance with the rules of admitting evidence, handed Hasan red pill bottles that rattled with bullet fragments removed from those who were shot.
Associated Press reporter John Mone contributed to this report.