HOUSTON — The jury in the Fort Hood, Texas mass murder trial has convicted U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan of murdering 13 people and wounding 32 others in a shooting on the base in November, 2009. Next week the same jury - or panel, as it is known in military law - will determine if the death penalty should be imposed.
Observers in the courtroom say Major Nidal Hasan showed no visible reaction to the verdict, but some wounded victims and family members of victims wept.
The 42-year-old Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who was born in the eastern state of Virginia and raised Muslim, insisted on defending himself during the trial, but participated only minimally. He called no witnesses and declined to give a closing statement. He admitted to shooting soldiers preparing for deployment to what he called “illegal wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Having been convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder, Hasan now faces either the death penalty or life in prison. That will be determined when the court convenes next week for the punishment phase of the trial, according to
Jeffrey Addicott, a military law expert at the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio.
"The judge will start this on Monday and it is up to the defense to offer extenuation and mitigation evidence. That could range from an unsworn statement, where the defendant could not be cross examined, or it could be a sworn statement or it could be any other individual the defense wants to call to talk about why he should not receive the most severe punishment," said Addicott.
Based on Hasan's behavior so far, Addicott says he may choose to say nothing at all, but if he should choose to make a sworn statement or present a witness, the prosecution would also have its say.
"If the defense opens that door, then the prosecution can provide evidence to rebut the extenuation and mitigation evidence provided by the defense, showing that he does deserve to die. These would be the impact on the victims' families and those types of statements," he said.
Addicott says the guilty verdict will provide some sense of closure for victim families and the more than 30 people wounded in the attack.
But given the fact that many have struggled with medical bills, rehabilitation costs and loss of income, Addicott believes they need something more.
"I think they have been consoled now that he has been found guilty on all counts. I think the next good thing that could be done by the Obama administration is to recognize that these soldiers that were murdered died in combat and, therefore, they deserve all the benefits that are associated with combat veterans," said Addicott.
Some of the victims and family members have filed a lawsuit demanding combat benefits, but the U.S. government has taken the position that the Fort Hood shooting was not an attack by an enemy force, but the act of a lone gunman, acting on his own. Addicott says, however, that the government should reconsider now that the trial jury has convicted Hasan, based on evidence that he was inspired by radical Islamists who promote violent jihad.
If all goes as expected, the jury will likely return the punishment verdict by the middle of next week. If the death penalty is applied, Hasan would be transferred to a military prison in Kansas to await execution. But automatic appeals in death penalty cases usually take at least a few years, and no U.S. soldier has been executed since 1961. There are currently five men on the U.S. military's death row.