Nidal Malik Hasan was sentenced to death Wednesday for killing 13 people and wounding 32 others in a 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, the worst mass murder at a military installation in U.S. history.
Dressed in Army fatigues, Hasan, who turns 43 next month, listened impassively as the death penalty was handed down by a panel of 13 senior military officers in a unanimous decision. If even a single panel member had objected, Hasan would instead have been sentenced to life in prison.
The jury deliberated for a little more than two hours.
Hasan was dismissed from the Army and stripped of his pay and other benefits, which he had continued to receive while awaiting trial. He will be transferred to a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on the first available military flight, officials said.
Hasan was previously found guilty on all 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 of attempted premeditated murder after opening fire Nov. 5, 2009, at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where troops were getting medical checkups before deployments to Afghanistan.
The Army psychiatrist, who also was due to deploy to Afghanistan a few weeks later, shouted “Allahu akbar!” meaning “God is great,” before targeting unarmed soldiers with a high-powered, high-capacity handgun he had fitted with laser sights. He was apprehended by military police officers after firing more than 200 shots.
Prosecutors aggressively pursued the death sentence during the 22-day court-martial this month, calling more than 100 witnesses, including 20 surviving victims and relatives of the deceased to testify in a courtroom just a few miles from the site of the shooting.
During two days of sentencing evidence, they described, in often emotional testimony, how the incident had changed their lives.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler, who was shot four times, told the court, “I was expected to either die or remain in a vegetative state.”
Zeigler’s left side remains partially paralyzed, and he said that his personality has changed and that he is “a lot angrier, a lot darker than I used to be.”
The father of a pregnant 21-year-old private from Chicago, Francheska Velez, who was fatally shot as she pleaded for the life of her baby, testified in Spanish that Hasan had also “killed me slowly.”
Velez was one of three women killed in the attack. The 13 dead ranged in age from 19 to 62.
The court heard that Hasan had carefully planned his attack, training at a local firing range and researching jihad on his computer. The FBI and Department of Defense have drawn criticism for failing to prevent the attack after missing a number of warning signs.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, had exchanged emails with a leading al-Qaida figure in which he asked whether those attacking fellow soldiers were martyrs. The emails were seen by the FBI. Hasan also once gave a presentation to Army doctors discussing Islam and suicide bombers and said Muslims should be allowed to leave the armed forces as conscientious objectors to avoid “adverse events.”
Hasan attempted to plead guilty before the start of the trial but was unable to do so under military rules governing death penalty cases. He ignored the judge’s advice and opted to act as his own attorney.
He called no witnesses, offered no testimony and declined a final opportunity to speak Wednesday morning when he opted not to deliver a closing statement.
At the start of the case, in a brief opening comment, Hasan took responsibility for the shooting and said he was a soldier who had decided to “switch sides” in what he believed was a U.S. war against Islam.
Delivering his closing argument, the lead prosecutor, Col. Mike Mulligan, told panel members it would be wrong to link Hasan’s actions to a wider religious cause.
“He’ll never be a martyr,” Mulligan said, according to news agencies. “This is not his gift to God. This is his debt to society. This is the cost of his murderous rampage.”
The prosecutor added: “It was conscious decision to commit murder to serve his own needs, his own wants. His attack by him was all about him. This is about his soul; for his soul he stole life from 13 others.”
The death penalty is rare in military cases, and legal experts said it will likely be many years, if ever, before the lethal injection can be administered.
There are several mandatory appeal stages, and no active-duty soldier has been executed since 1961, although several are on death row. A military death sentence requires final approval by the president, as commander in chief.
Hasan, who is paralyzed from the chest down and uses a wheelchair after being shot during the incident, faced accusations that he had deliberately sought the death penalty.
On the second day of the trial, his standby attorneys attempted unsuccessfully to have their roles reduced, and on Tuesday they asked to be allowed to submit mitigating evidence, including Hasan’s good behavior in custody. Hasan objected, saying he had “overzealous defense counsel,” and the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, dismissed the attorneys’ request.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Hasan’s former attorney denied that the shooter had a death wish.
John Galligan, a civilian lawyer who regularly visits Hasan in jail, said his former client took a “realistic” view of the proceedings in declining to mount a defense. He said Hasan was denied the opportunity to defend himself when Osborn barred him from arguing that he had carried out the mass shooting to save the lives of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.
“He doesn’t have a death wish,” Galligan said. “I fully understand why he has maintained the position that he wants to represent himself in light of the comments that were made by some of his defense team.”
The lawyer, who continues to provide legal assistance and has been meeting with Hasan almost daily for several months, denounced the proceedings as “almost a ludicrous show trial to secure a death penalty, even though they know it’s unlikely that it would be ever actually implemented.”
He continued: “In the military justice system, the appeals in this case are going to go on for decades. In all honesty, he stands a far more likely chance of dying from medical reasons than dying because he’s been sentenced to death.”