New York Times
Military Jury Convicts Army Psychiatrist on All 45 Counts in Fort Hood Rampage
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
August 23, 2013
The verdict, delivered by 13 senior Army officers, came 17 days after Major Hasan’s court-martial trial began on Aug. 6, and nearly four years after the day in November 2009 that he killed or wounded dozens of unarmed soldiers at a medical deployment center at Fort Hood here.
Major Hasan, a psychiatrist who turned on the very soldiers he devoted much of his 15-year military career to helping, sat in a wheelchair in combat fatigues, an American flag patch on his upper right sleeve. Inside a Fort Hood courtroom filled with soldiers, military police and the relatives of those he killed, but none of his own family members, he had no visible reaction and sat motionless as the jury foreman, a female Army colonel, stood and read the unanimous verdict.
The jury of nine colonels, three lieutenant colonels and one major deliberated for about six hours over two days before finding him guilty of 45 counts of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder, one count for each of the 13 people he killed and the 32 he wounded or shot at. All the jurors were combat veterans, and throughout the trial they heard the prosecution’s nearly 90 witnesses describe how Major Hasan opened fire at the medical processing building with a semiautomatic pistol on Nov. 5, 2009, using the green and red laser sights under the barrel to target uniformed soldiers but avoid those in civilian clothes or medical scrubs.
He and prosecutors said his mission was to kill as many soldiers as he could as part of a jihad to protect “my Muslim brothers” from American soldiers deploying to Afghanistan. A year after the shooting, he told a military mental health panel that he wished he had died in the attack so he could have become a martyr. He expressed no remorse for his actions, only regret that he was paralyzed by police officers who shot him in ending the attack.
The verdict now opens the sentencing phase of the court-martial, with the 13 officers deciding whether to sentence Major Hasan to die by lethal injection. He could become the first American soldier in 52 years to be executed in the military’s death chamber at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. One of the reasons capital punishment in the military has been so rare is that execution of a soldier requires presidential approval.
If even one member of the jury votes against death, Major Hasan will be sentenced to life in prison. The judge ordered the jury and both sides to return to court on Monday, when the sentencing phase will begin and when relatives of those Major Hasan killed will testify about the impact the murders had on their lives.
The start of the court-martial trial was delayed several times, largely because of Major Hasan’s efforts to keep the beard he had grown for religious reasons, in violation of Army rules. In contrast, Hasan Akbar, the Army sergeant who was sentenced to death in a grenade attack on his own camp in Kuwait in 2003, was convicted just two years after his attack. In Major Hasan’s case, three years and nine months have elapsed since the shooting.
His has also become one of the most expensive cases in military history, costing the government more than $5 million, including $8,000 a month to rent a trailer near the courthouse where Major Hasan, who acted as his own lawyer, could work on his case with access to a computer, printer and law books. The Army has paid Bell County more than $584,000 since 2010 to incarcerate, feed and provide security and medical services for Major Hasan at its county jail in nearby Belton, Tex.
The evidence against Major Hasan was overwhelming. Victims identified him as the gunman — the fatigues he wore that day displayed his name tag — and prosecutors said that all of the 146 rounds found in the building matched up exactly with the FN Five-seven handgun that Major Hasan bought months before the attack at a local gun shop and that was removed from his hand after he was shot by officers. He shot soldiers in the back, as they lay wounded on the floor and as they covered their faces with their hands or forearms. He shot both men and women in uniform, including Private Francheska Velez, 21, who was pregnant with her first child and was one of the 13 people he killed.
Beyond the evidence and testimony, however, jurors witnessed for themselves Major Hasan’s unusual and bizarre handling of his case.
Major Hasan released his court-appointed Army defense lawyers in order to represent himself. No defendant in a military capital-punishment case has represented himself in modern times. His former defense team had been working on his case for years and had succeeded in persuading a military appeals court to remove the previous judge for an appearance of bias. After Major Hasan split from his lawyers, the new judge overseeing the court-martial, Col. Tara A. Osborn, ordered the defense team to remain by his side as standby counsel.
Hunched over in his wheelchair, thinner and paler than in 2009, Major Hasan was a quiet, soft-spoken defendant throughout the trial, making only a handful of objections and asking few questions. When it came time to submit a plea to the charges, Major Hasan declined, so the judge entered a plea of not guilty for him. On a computer screen in front of him at the defense table, he was shown autopsy photos of his victims and an F.B.I. crime-scene video with bloodstains and bodies on the floor of the building; he had no visible reaction.
After the prosecution rested, Major Hasan presented no defense on Wednesday, calling no witnesses and declining to take the stand and testify. On Thursday, he declined to make a closing argument.
His former Army lawyers had argued that Major Hasan was encouraging rather than fighting a death sentence, and they told the judge that helping him achieve that goal violated their professional and moral obligations. Their concerns helped explain much of Major Hasan’s behavior in court — he admitted to the jury that he was the gunman in his opening statement — and were one of several signs that he was preparing to die.
Another was when he started growing a beard last year. He told his defense lawyers he did not want to die without a beard, because he believed not having one was a sin.
The verdict came two weeks before Major Hasan turned 43. Born in Arlington, Va., to Palestinian parents, he attended Virginia Tech and began his military medical school training in 1997, two years after he began active duty. For months and even years before the attack, his views of Islam had turned extreme. In December 2008, 10 months before the shooting, he sent the first of 16 messages and e-mails to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born cleric who encouraged several terrorist plots. He asked Mr. Awlaki whether Muslim American troops who killed other American soldiers in the name of Islam would be considered “fighting jihad and if they did die would you consider them shaheeds,” an Arabic term for martyrs.
Mr. Awlaki never replied to that message. But in 2010, in an interview with the mental health panel that evaluated him, Major Hasan appeared to answer his own question. He told the panel if he died by lethal injection, “I would still be a martyr.”