Nidal Hasan court-martial: Jury to resume deliberations in Fort Hood shooting

Photo provided by Bell County Sheriff's Office
Friday, August 23, 2013 - 7:00am

A military jury considering the fate of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with massacring soldiers at Fort Hood, is scheduled to resume its deliberations Friday morning.

The panel of 13 senior officers received the case on Thursday and asked to hear a transcript from the testimony of the police officer who shot Hasan, bringing to an end a rampage that left 13 people dead and dozens wounded.

Jurors also asked to see a map marked by the police officer, Mark Todd, indicating where he shot Hasan.

The questions appeared to indicate that the jury at the court-martial was evaluating the charge against Hasan for firing at Todd, who was not wounded in the attack.

Hasan is charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder in the November 5, 2009, shooting rampage at a deployment processing center where prosecutors say he targeted soldiers he was set to deploy with to Afghanistan.

The jury began deliberations after Hasan declined to make a statement during closing arguments.

The prosecution urged the jury to convict, saying the evidence showed that he believed he had a jihad duty to kill as many soldiers as possible. If the jury unanimously convicts Hasan of two or more counts of premeditated murder, he faces a possible death sentence in the penalty phase.

"There is no doubt, as I said in the beginning, the accused is the shooter," the prosecutor, Col. Steven Henricks, told the jury.

"The only question for you is ... is this a premeditated design to kill?"

For more than 90 minutes, the prosecutor took the jury methodically through the evidence in the case, meticulously piecing together how he says Hasan prepared and planned for the attack.

Prosecutors have maintained the American-born Muslim underwent a progressive radicalization that led to the massacre at the sprawling central Texas base.

"He did not want to deploy, and he came to believe he had a jihad duty to kill as many soldiers as possible," Henricks told the jury.

Hasan picked the day -- November 5, 2009 -- because it was when the units he was scheduled to deploy with to Afghanistan were scheduled to go through the processing center, he said.

Hasan, who has been acting as his own attorney, rested his case without calling a single witness or taking the stand to testify on his own behalf.

His decision not to offer a defense was an anticlimactic end to the trial in which prosecution witnesses, primarily survivors, painted a horrific picture of what unfolded inside a processing center during the attack.

During closing arguments, prosecutors showed a graphic FBI video of the crime scene hours after the rampage, where bodies, blood and bullets still covered the floor.

As the video was shown to the jury, some of the family members of those killed fought back tears.

One woman laid her head on her husband's shoulder, tears pouring down her cheeks, while another woman, a wife of a victim, left the courtroom.

For his part, Hasan watched the video, appearing to pay close attention.

Hasan, who has insisted that the jury not be allowed to consider lesser charges against him, said his attack on soldiers at Fort Hood was not an act of "sudden passion."

There was "adequate provocation" for the attack because the soldiers were going to participate in "an illegal war" in Afghanistan, Hasan told the military judge Wednesday, arguing against the jury being allowed to consider voluntary manslaughter or unpremeditated murder.

Prosecutors argued against the inclusion of lesser charges, saying the attack wasn't carried out in "the heat of sudden passion," and Hasan said he agreed.

The judge ruled that the jurors can consider a lesser charge of unpremeditated murder but not voluntary manslaughter. They can also consider unpremeditated attempted and other lesser charges, she ruled.

Much has been made of Hasan's defense or, as his stand-by attorneys have said, the lack of it. Judge Tara Osborn declined a request by Hasan's attorneys to drop out of the case. The attorneys argued that Hasan was helping the prosecution put him to death.

There may be something to that claim.

Hasan took credit for the shooting rampage at the outset of the trial, telling the jury during opening statements that the evidence will show "I was the shooter."

Osborn barred Hasan from pleading guilty at the start of the court-martial. Under military law, defendants cannot enter guilty pleas in capital punishment cases.

The judge has refused to allow Hasan to argue "defense of others," a claim that he carried out the shootings to protect the Afghan Taliban and its leaders from U.S. soldiers.

Perhaps as a way around that ruling, Hasan in recent days has leaked documents through his civilian attorney to The New York Times and Fox News that offer a glimpse of his justification for carrying out the attack. Among the documents was a mental health evaluation conducted by a military panel to determine whether Hasan was fit to stand trial.

"I don't think what I did was wrong because it was for the greater cause of helping my Muslim brothers," he told the panel, according to pages of the report published by The New York Times.

He also said, according to the documents: "I'm paraplegic and could be in jail for the rest of my life. However, if I died by lethal injection, I would still be a martyr."

Military prosecutors called 89 witnesses and submitted more than 700 pieces of evidence before resting their case.

The judge excluded much of the evidence that the prosecution contends goes to the heart of the motive for the attack, including e-mail communications between Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric who officials say became a key member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.

Osborn also declined to allow prosecutors to use materials they maintain showed Hasan's interest in the actions of Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar, the American soldier sentenced to death for killing two soldiers and wounding more than a dozen others at the start of the Iraq war, an attack he said he carried out to stop soldiers from killing Muslims.

Along with the e-mails and the material related to Akbar, Osborn declined to allow the use of Hasan's academic presentation on suicide bombings, saying "motive is not an element of the crime."

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