A military jury has sentenced Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan to death for killing 13 people in the November 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas.
The decision Wednesday for the death penalty came after only a few hours of deliberation following the closing summation by the prosecution. Hasan, who has represented himself throughout the trial, declined to speak.
Since the decision had to be unanimous, it was unclear what the jury would decide, according to Geoffrey Corn, a former military prosecutor who teaches at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. "There was always the possibility that, even though the evidence was compelling, that one member might decide, for whatever reason, they did not want a death penalty in this case," he explained. "Obviously, that did not occur, but it was always a possibility."
In cases where the death penalty has been applied, military law requires an appellate process in which appointed attorneys challenge the outcome.
Geoffrey Corn said Hasan's dismissal of his attorneys and their standby role during the proceedings could be examined in the appellate courts. "The defense lawyers were arguing throughout the trial that they should be given more authority in the case to protect his interests. But the law is clear; they do not have that right, he has that right. Nonetheless, on appeal, you can bet that the appellate lawyers are going to be asking the courts to revisit that relationship," he said.
Corn said the case contrasts American principles with the convicted killer's mindset. Corn notes that a policeman shot Hasan to stop his attack, but did not kill him once he was down. Instead, he and one of the men Hasan had been trying to kill saved his life. The Army then provided him medical care and a fair trial.
"I think one of the untold stories of this case is the victory of reason over power -- or humanity over depravity. Our nation was founded on the belief that reason must prevail over power and that is what this process was about and that is what should give us confidence in the outcome," stated Corn.
Hasan will be transferred to a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he will remain as the appeals go forward. The mandatory appeal process will likely take around four years, but other appeals could follow. If Hasan's death sentence is carried out, it would be the first time for the U.S. military since 1961.