Fort Hood trial: Odd legal dance as both sides appear to seek death penalty (+video)
Nidal Hasan’s lawyers now say the alleged Fort Hood shooter isn't interested in defending himself. The Army is seeking an iron-clad capital verdict by coaxing Hasan to mount the best defense possible.
What started as a horrific attack, in which Maj. Nidal Hasan is accused of an act of ultimate treachery by shooting scores of unsuspecting fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in 2009, has by turns and twists emerged as a bizarre legal drama playing out in an ultra-fortified compound in Killeen, Texas.Skip to next paragraph
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The trial of Major Hasan, a radicalized psychiatrist who has elected to represent himself at trial and who admitted on Tuesday that “I am the shooter,” saw its first major delay on Wednesday after Hasan’s court-appointed standby defense lawyers raised new objections about his defense strategy.
Hasan’s lawyers suggestion that Hasan is ultimately not interested in defending himself added more complexity to a unique situation in which the Army’s main intent is to give Hasan a capital verdict that is iron-clad against appeals by coaxing him to defend himself.
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Some Americans feared a circus atmosphere at the trial in which Hasan is given a jihadi soapbox while subjecting victims to cross-examination by their tormentor. While the trial is likely to take more turns, Hasan declined to cross-examine one of his victims on Tuesday, and has so far kept comments restrained and to a minimum.
But given his lawyers’ contention on Wednesday, the trial has become, if not a show trial, a strange sort of legal dance. The court wants to give Hasan every opportunity to avoid the death penalty in order to keep the expected death sentence from being overturned on appeal. (Eleven of the last 16 capital courts martial sentences have been overturned.) Hasan’s goal, meanwhile, may be martyrdom, to die at the hands of Uncle Sam, putting the Army into the position of having to convince Hasan to fight the death penalty in order to execute him.
“This is really one of the most bizarre proceedings in the annals of legal history,” says Aitan Goelman, a government prosecutor in the Oklahoma City bombing trial of Timothy McVeigh. “It sounds like [what we’re seeing] is a long guilty plea. As opposed to a trial where there’s actually material facts … and what his mindset was” in dispute, “it sounds to me like he doesn’t really disagree with the government’s allegations – he just thinks he was justified. The outcomes of those kinds of trials aren’t really in doubt.”
The evidence is seemingly ironclad. Hasan, yelling “God is great!” in Arabic, is accused of firing more than 200 rounds from a semi-automatic rifle into throngs of troops at the Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009, killing 13 and injuring scores more, many seriously.
The case has come to the court martial courtroom on Fort Hood after many delays and twists. A judge had to be dismissed because of a bureaucratic and philosophical argument about whether Hasan should be able to wear the beard he grew in custody to court, or shave per Army regulations. The beard won out.