HOUSTON — The man accused of murdering 13 people in a shooting spree in November, 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, rested his case after calling no witnesses to the stand. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan will have a chance to present his justification for the shooting in closing statements set for Thursday. But the unpredictable defendant may decide to forego that as well.
When the court session opened Wednesday and the panel, or jury, was seated, presiding Judge Colonel Tara Osborn asked Major Hasan if he had any witnesses to call. He said he did not. She asked if anyone had coerced him into the decision to rest his case without presenting witnesses and he replied, "No, Ma'am."
A military law expert at the Center for Terrorism Law at St Mary's University in San Antonio, Jeffrey Addicott, had thought Hasan might use the opportunity to take the stand himself. But he says the defendant, who espouses a radical interpretation of Islam, may have seen little point in doing that.
"In a way, what he did was logical. It is just not logical to our brains," he said. "He basically feels he has nothing to defend, that what he did was appropriate, proper and in accordance with his views on radical Islam."
Hasan, who is representing himself, had said at the outset of the trial that he would call two witnesses, but Addicott says he may have decided they were not necessary.
"He did indicate he was going to have two witnesses, one of them was flown in from California, they were going to be religious leaders," he said. "He was planning, I think, on talking about the justification for what he did, but perhaps he is going to save that for his closing statement."
Judge Osborn set Thursday for closing statements by the prosecution and defense. Hasan could choose to say nothing.
During the past two weeks as prosecutors presented detailed evidence and brought to the stand 89 witnesses, some of whom were people wounded in the shooting, Hasan raised no objections and asked few questions. As witnesses described the horrific crime scene and their own experience of being shot by him, Hasan sat quietly, looking down.
At one point his standby defense lawyers objected, saying that he was deliberately trying to be convicted with what one of them characterized as a "repugnant" defense. But Hasan said they were, in his words,"twisting the facts" and the judge ruled that it was his right to choose his own strategy.
Jeffrey Addicott says once the panel has the case, the members will carefully examine all the evidence before returning a verdict.
"Under their duty, they do have to look at all the evidence and they will go through all those statements," he said. "This is a military jury and they take their duty and responsibility very seriously."
But he says the deliberation will likely be quite short since the evidence against Hasan is overwhelming and he presented no defense. All the panel members are officers of the same or higher rank than Hasan and they have all come to Fort Hood from other bases around the country to avoid any possible bias based on connections with the base or any of the people killed or wounded.
Addicott thinks the panel may produce a verdict as early as Friday.