News Column

Hasan Sentenced to Death for Fort Hood Attack

Aug 29, 2013

A military jury sentenced Maj. Nidal Hasan to death Wednesday for carrying out the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting attack on unarmed Fort Hood soldiers preparing to deploy to war. It took jurors just under two hours to reach their decision.

Hasan, who represented himself but failed to present any evidence during his trial's sentencing phase, showed no emotion when the sentence was read. Some family members wiped tears from their eyes as they left the courtroom.

Hasan, an 18-year Army veteran from Virginia, will be sent to the military's death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

His monthly pay of more than $7,200, which he continued to receive during the court-martial, will be terminated.

The verdict and sentence still must be ratified by Fort Hood's commanding general, which is considered a formality.

But Hasan likely won't be executed anytime soon. Appeals are automatic under the military justice system, and the majority of military death sentences since 1984 have been overturned by appellate courts. There are five other inmates on death row, though one recently had his sentence overturned by a lower appeals court, which ordered a new sentencing.

If put to death, the Army psychiatrist would become the first service member executed by the military justice system since 1961.

Prosecutor Col. Mike Mulligan pressed during closing arguments to keep jurors from considering whether a death sentence would help Hasan achieve martyrdom or serve to inspire outside forces.

In a mental health report Hasan released to the media two weeks ago, the Army psychiatrist said that a death sentence would make him a martyr. While jurors didn't have access to the document, Mulligan appeared to worry that some jurors might have been reluctant to sentence Hasan to death because it might mean giving him what he wants.

"He will never be a martyr," Mulligan told them. "Do not be misled, do not be confused. ... He is not now, and he never will be, a martyr. He is a criminal, a cold-blooded murderer."

Mulligan also told jurors that it would be "unwise to link (the shooting) to any wider cause" and that "his actions are all about him."

Joleen Cahill of Cameron, wife of slain retired soldier and civilian medical worker Michael Cahill, said the sentence brought some relief. "Today a weight has been lifted off my shoulder," said Cahill, who had attended numerous pretrial hearings over the last three years. "The (jury) panel gave him justice, and I agree with that justice.

But Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Royal, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after he was shot twice by Hasan, said Wednesday's death sentence brings little relief.

"I'm a man who doesn't believe in revenge," Royal said. "So I won't declare that his sentence will help my situation at all. ... It's Nov. 5 every day for me."

After escaping out of a back door during the shooting, Royal returned to the medical processing center to try to disarm Hasan. Instead he was shot when Hasan chased another soldier out of the same door.

"May God have mercy on his soul," Royal told the American-Statesman shortly after the sentence was reached. "I was not rooting for the decision to go either way. The biggest regret that I have is that I wasn't able to get my hands on him (during the shooting)."

Some victims' family members didn't agree with the sentence. "I do not have any closure with this verdict," said Leila Willingham, whose brother Spc. J.D. Hunt was killed in the shooting. "I strongly oppose the death penalty and do not agree with trading hate for hate, death for death. I miss my brother. But he died valiantly, and I want to honor him with love, not vengeance."

Other victims took to Twitter to give their reactions. Kimberly Munley, the former Fort Hood police officer who was the first officer on the scene and who was shot three times by Hasan, wrote: "Sentenced to DEATH! But meanwhile, he will wither away to nothing in his jail cell while waiting on the appellate courts! He is now NO ONE!"

The 17-day court-martial, which concluded much earlier than expected because Hasan cross-examined few witnesses, left some questions unanswered. Military judge Col. Tara Osborn barred prosecutors from presenting evidence of Hasan's growing radicalization, including emails he exchanged with al-Qaida-linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and presentations he made while a psychiatric resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center last decade.

And Hasan, despite releasing a number of reports and statements to the media spelling put his religious motives, chose not to present a defense, give an unsworn statement during the sentencing phase or give closing arguments. He did give an opening statement in which he told jurors "I am the shooter" and declared that, as an American soldier, he was "on the wrong side of the war against Islam."

Despite Hasan's admissions, the U.S. government hasn't declared him an enemy combatant, which would open the door to enhanced benefits for survivors. Dozens of victims and family members are suing the federal government, seeking to have the attack classified as terrorism and to get Purple Hearts for survivors. The lawsuit alleges that officials missed numerous red flags and continued to promote Hasan despite poor performance and alarming statements.

The trial revealed that Hasan's Fort Hood supervisor gave him a glowing review just days before the attack.

Three Texas congressmen said Wednesday that next week they would announce legislation that would label the shooting a terrorist attack and make survivors eligible for Purple Hearts.

In the moments after Wednesday's verdict, several family members urged less focus on Hasan and more on the victims and survivors.

Gale Hunt showed her son's photo to the media throng assembled at Fort Hood, telling them: "This is my son, J.D. Hunt. I'm tired of seeing Hasan's photo in the newspaper."

Said Kerry Cahill, Michael Cahill's daughter: "The best thing for that man is to be forgotten."



Source: (c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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