Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan sentenced to death
Years, possibly decades, of appeals lie ahead before execution
A U.S. military court has sentenced Maj. Nidal Hasan to death for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas, giving the army psychiatrist a path to the martyrdom he appeared to crave in the attack on unarmed fellow soldiers.
The U.S.-born Muslim, who has said he acted to protect Islamic insurgents abroad from American aggression, never denied being the gunman.
In opening statements, he acknowledged to the jury that he pulled the trigger in a crowded waiting room where troops were getting final medical checkups before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The same jurors who convicted Hasan last week had just two options: either agree unanimously that Hasan should die or watch the 42-year-old get an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.
Hasan could become the first American soldier executed in more than half a century. But because the military justice system requires a lengthy appeals process, years or even decades could pass before he is put to death.
The lead prosecutor assured jurors that Hasan would "never be a martyr" despite his attempt to tie the attack to religion.
"He is a criminal. He is a cold-blooded murderer," Col. Mike Mulligan said Wednesday in his final plea for a rare military death sentence. "This is not his gift to God. This is his debt to society. This is the cost of his murderous rampage."
Death penalty long sought
For nearly four years, the federal government has sought to execute Hasan, believing that any sentence short of a lethal injection would deny justice to the families of the dead and the survivors who had believed they were safe behind the gates of the Texas base.
And for just as long, Hasan has seemed content to go to the death chamber for his beliefs. He fired his own lawyers so he could represent himself, barely put up a defence during a three-week trial and made almost no effort to have his life spared.
Mulligan reminded the jury that Hasan was a trained doctor yet opened fire on defenceless comrades. He "only dealt death," the prosecutor said, so the only appropriate sentence is death.
He was never allowed to argue in front of the jury that the shooting was necessary to protect Islamic and Taliban leaders from U.S. troops.
When Hasan began shooting, the troops were standing in long lines to receive immunizations and doctors' clearances. Thirteen people were killed and more than were 30 wounded. All but one of the dead were soldiers, including a pregnant private who curled on the floor and pleaded for her baby's life.
The attack ended only when Hasan was shot in the back by an officer responding to the shooting. Hasan is now paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair.
More than 90 witnesses
The military called nearly 90 witnesses at the trial and more during the sentencing phase. But Hasan rested his case without calling a single person to testify in his defence and made no closing argument. Even with his life at stake during the sentencing hearing, he made no attempt to question witnesses and gave no final statement to jurors.
Death sentences are rare in the military, which has just five other prisoners on death row. The cases trigger a long appeals process. And the president must give final authorization before any service member is executed. No U.S. soldier has been executed since 1961.