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Army Maj. Nidal Hasan was convicted Friday in the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, a shocking assault against American troops at home by one of their own who said he opened fire on fellow soldiers to protect Muslim insurgents abroad.
The Army psychiatrist acknowledged carrying out the attack in a crowded waiting room where unarmed troops were making final preparations to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq. Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 wounded.
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.
A jury of 13 high-ranking military officers reached a unanimous guilty verdict in about seven hours. Hasan had no visible reaction as the verdict was read. In the next phase of the trial, they 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, a Virginia-born Muslim, said the attack was a jihad against U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He bristled when the trial judge, Col. Tara 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.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW.
A verdict is in and the jury in the trial of Fort Hood shooter Army Major Nidal Hasan has reached a unanimous verdict.
YOUNG: Guilty in the 2009 shooting rampage that left 13 dead, 30 wounded, the largest mass murder at a military installation in American history. Kate McGee is a reporter with HERE AND NOW Contributors Network station KUT in Austin. Kate, what was Hasan's reaction, if any?
KATE MCGEE, BYLINE: Hasan did not have a reaction, according to reporters who are in the courtroom. However, family members did have - some were crying, some left the courtroom with smiles. The deliberation lasted about seven hours and the 13-member military panel delivered the charge. It was delivered quickly and very matter of fact. And quickly the judge recessed the court until Monday when sentencing will begin.
YOUNG: Well, it's not exactly a surprise. Hasan, who's Virginia-born, represented himself, made no defense, said he was the shooter, called no one to testify, made no closing statement. His court-appointed legal backup team protested during the trial, as you all know, saying he - this is what he wants. He wants the death penalty. Is there a chance that there will be an intervention appeal if he does not make an appeal, someone's saying that this is exactly what this would-be martyr wants?
MCGEE: They're in a military trial where there - it's a capital case. Any case is automatically appealed. They just - the reason that the judge, throughout the trial, has been very, very sure to make sure that the trial goes through procedure is so if there is a (unintelligible) appeal, either on his behalf or by him, Hasan himself, that the appeals court would look at the trial and say that there was no room for any sort of mistrial or appeal.
She really used an abundance of caution in this trial to make sure that she dotted the I's and crossed the T's and made sure that this went - straight from the books. So whether or not he appeals for himself or someone appeals on his behalf remains to be seen, well, after sentencing is concluded.
YOUNG: Well, and the team, the backup team then, you're saying, might do that because they wanted to be relieved of their duties during the trial because they felt it was something of a farce, that they weren't really defending him and he wasn't defending himself.
MCGEE: That's up to the...
YOUNG: That would be up to them.
MCGEE: ...standby counsel...
MCGEE: ...to announce on Monday. Hasan is still representing himself, and in sentencing will still represent himself, and in the appeals can still represent himself. Although military experts say that can be very difficult for someone to represent himself on appeal without a legal background because appeals usually are so technical, on the grounds of an appeal. So that still remains to be seen. The next step is really what people are focusing on, is the sentencing part of this trial, which Hasan can face the death penalty.
YOUNG: Well, and tell us more about this, the sentencing phase - the same jury?
MCGEE: Yes. It will be the same 13 military panel Lawyers, since the beginning, have said that this will be the interesting part of the trial. Could this be the first soldier to get the death penalty and be executed in 52 years? Very rare in the military for them to give the death penalty and for the execution to actually go through. So that will happen next week. Hasan's case, since it's a capital case, will receive an automatic appeal, as I've said before.
And the sentencing (unintelligible) will start on Monday and we will hear from, possibly, family members and we'll hear more of the testimony to see what kind of impact, you know, this crime has had on others throughout this aftermath and throughout the trial, to see what kind of impact that had on the sentencing (unintelligible).
YOUNG: Yeah. When you say there hasn't been a military soldier executed since 1961, I think there's only maybe four or five on the military's death row. But you mentioned the families again. The prosecution, the military called 90 witnesses, the testimony was often wrenching. You say you saw some reaction. Tell us more about how they are reacting. These are people who in many cases lost family, but in other cases were right in the line of fire and somehow lived.
MCGEE: Right. There was - one of the most interesting things in the beginning of this case was whether or not Hasan, who was representing himself, was going to cross-examine some of the people that he in fact had shot. And so once it became clear that he was not going to cross-examine these witnesses, it became more of a procedural trial.
But the judge, before the deliberation ended and the verdict was given, she said to the family members in the court, you know, we have not had any outbursts throughout this entire trial and we really thank you for that. We know that this has been an emotional and tedious and somewhat graphic testimony that's been heard. And throughout the entire trial there was really no outburst from any of the family members in the court.
And this is really the first reaction we saw today after the verdict was handed down, was to see some of the tears and the emotion from those family members who lost loved ones.
YOUNG: Tears of relief. Kate McGee, reporter for HERE AND NOW Contributing Network KUT in Austin. Thank you.
MCGEE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.