Fort Hood gunman sentenced to death

Kerry Cahill (right) comforted her mother, Joleen, as they joined other family members to talk about Michael Cahill, who was killed in the Fort Hood shootings, at a news conference after Major Nidal Hasan (below) was sentenced Wednesday.
Eric Gay/associated press
Kerry Cahill (right) comforted her mother, Joleen, as they joined other family members to talk about Michael Cahill, who was killed in the Fort Hood shootings, at a news conference after Major Nidal Hasan (below) was sentenced Wednesday.

KILLEEN, Texas — Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who admitted to killing 13 unarmed people at Fort Hood nearly four years ago, was sentenced to death by lethal injection by a jury on Wednesday, becoming one of only a handful of men on military death row.

Since the case against Hasan was overwhelming, his conviction was a near certainty, and the main question in the trial was whether he would receive the death penalty.

Prosecutors had from the start built a case for execution for an attack that a Senate report called the worst act of terrorism on US soil since Sept. 11, 2001. But Hasan, a Muslim, taunted the military justice system, refusing to put up a defense and suggesting in and out of court that death to him was but a means to martyrdom, leaving jurors to ponder whether to give him what he wanted.


His stance left the Army’s lead prosecutor, Colonel Michael Mulligan, telling jurors during his closing argument Wednesday morning that Hasan was not and never would be a martyr.

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“Do not be fooled,” he told the 13 senior officers on the panel. “He is not giving his life. We are taking his life. This is not his gift to God. This is his debt to society.”

The jurors took a little more than two hours to decide the sentence. If even one of them had objected to Hasan’s execution, he would have been sentenced to life in prison. The same jury on Friday found Hasan guilty of 45 counts of murder and attempted murder.

Because of the high profile and heavy toll of the Nov. 5, 2009, attack — more than 40 people were killed or wounded — Hasan is likely to become the first US soldier in more than half a century to be executed in the military’s death chamber at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The execution would require presidential approval.

Driven, he said, by a hatred of US military action in the Muslim world and a desire to protect Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, Hasan turned on troops wearing the same camouflage uniform as his own, using those green fatigues and his laser-sighted, semiautomatic pistol to target soldiers but avoid civilians. Firing 146 rounds at men and women as they crawled on the floor or crouched behind desks and cubicles, he killed 12 soldiers and a civilian who lunged at him with a chair.


Inside a Fort Hood courtroom fortified with blast-resistant barriers and members of the military police, Hasan showed no emotion as the jury forewoman, an Army colonel, read the sentence.

Hasan was the first defendant to represent himself in a military capital-punishment case in modern times, raising a host of issues. One of them is the conflict between his right to self-representation and the requirement that death penalty defendants be given special protections to ensure a fair verdict and sentence.

Some military legal experts suggested that Hasan’s case — in which he became a nonparticipant at his own trial and sought the death sentence — represented a fundamental breakdown of the military justice system. Others disputed that assertion.

Hasan was found competent to stand trial, and the judge, Colonel Tara A. Osborn, who repeatedly told him it was unwise to proceed on his own, said his right to represent himself allowed him to be, as she put it, “the captain of his own ship.”

Hasan admitted to the jury in his opening statement that he was the gunman. He asked few questions, made few objections to testimony, and entered one exhibit into evidence — a portion of an officer evaluation report in which he received high marks. He made no closing argument.


On Tuesday, Hasan had the opportunity to make an unsworn statement free from cross-examination by prosecutors as part of his sentencing defense. He said nothing, called no witnesses, and presented no evidence. His case amounted to three words: “The defense rests.”

‘He is not giving his life. We are taking his life. This is not his gift to God. This is his debt to society.’

If Hasan, who will soon turn 43, is executed, it will probably not be for 10 or 15 years. An automatic appeals process will inch his case through the military and federal appellate courts, which have overturned or commuted a number of military death sentences in recent years, often because of procedural issues involving ineffective legal assistance.

The jury heard from nearly 90 witnesses in 11 days and was presented with more than 700 pieces of evidence. But it was the testimony of one group of witnesses that likely had the most impact. During the sentencing phase on Monday and Tuesday, 20 survivors of the attack and relatives of those Hasan killed took the witness stand.

The court-martial had up to that point been a button-down proceeding void of all but the most subtle hints of emotion. Osborn had warned spectators in the gallery not to even nod or shake their heads in approval or disapproval, and the questions prosecutors asked witnesses were limited to the bare facts of who, what, and where.

But the testimony of the relatives unleashed a flood of heartache.

Christine Gaffaney, wife of Captain John Gaffaney, 56, said his clothes were still in the closet at home and his Harley still in the garage.

Staff Sergeant Patrick L. Zeigler Jr., who was shot four times, limped to the stand and told the jury that 20 percent of his brain had been removed and that he struggled with severe depression.

Philip Warman, the husband of Lieutenant Colonel Juanita L. Warman, 55, testified that he had started drinking after his wife’s death, but then got help and is now sober. A prosecutor asked him what he did with the coins he received at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings representing the milestones of his sobriety.

“I would push them into the ground of my wife’s grave,” Warman said.