Fort Hood shooter sentencing: Will Nidal Hasan finally take the stand?

The sentencing phase of the trial of Nidal Hasan gives the convicted Fort Hood shooter an opportunity to speak in his own defense, without cross-examination.

Bell County Sheriff's Department/AP/File
Maj. Nidal Hasan, seen here in a file photo, has been convicted of murder for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood and now faces sentencing. While survivors and relatives of the dead view lethal injection as justice, the Army psychiatrist appears to see it as something else – martyrdom.

The jury that found US Army Maj. Nidal Hasan guilty on all counts for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, will now decide whether he is sentenced to the death penalty or to a life in prison.

The sentencing portion of the trial begins Monday after Major Hasan, a former Army psychiatrist, was found guilty Friday on all 45 charges for killing 13 soldiers and wounding another 31 about a month before he and his unit were to deploy to Afghanistan. 

Prosecutors are expected to call more than a dozen family members of those killed to speak about the impact of the loss of their loved ones.

Hasan may also take the witness stand to speak publicly for the first time since the shootings and has the option of presenting mitigating circumstances. Unlike during the trial phase, Hasan can make a statement without being cross-examined by prosecutors, if he chooses to speak without being under oath.

“On Friday, Hasan told the judge he needed time to prepare, perhaps an extra day after the prosecution finishes, an indication that he planned to present something at sentencing,” the Los Angeles Times reports. 

Hasan’s civilian lawyer, John Galligan, has also suggested that Hasan could put himself on the witness stand this week, the Associated Press writes.

Legal analysts believe Hasan could use his statement to speak about the defense that military judge Col. Tara Osborn had prohibited: that he was defending Taliban leaders from attack by US soldiers about to deploy from Fort Hood.

Hasan chose to continue serving as his own attorney during the sentencing phase, even after Colonel Osborn again urged him to consider letting his court-appointed standby attorneys represent him during the sentencing phase.

“I’m only doing this to protect you and to ensure that your choice is made with your eyes wide open,” she said, according to the Times.

The standby lawyers have suggested that Hasan is seeking the death penalty, something Hasan has denied. But during the trial, Hasan admitted to being the shooter in his opening statement and did not call any witnesses on his behalf. He questioned only three of the 89 witnesses called by prosecutors and did not give a closing argument.

In 2010, Hasan told a psychiatric review board that he believed that being executed by the Army would give him martyrdom status among Islamic jihadis.

The lack of a vigorous defense creates a particularly troublesome problem for the jury, some experts say.

"All criminal trials – whether civilian or military – depend on an adversarial system," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNN. "Where there is too much agreement between opposing sides, or where the defendant refuses to put on a spirited case, does not always lead to a true result. Hasan may be setting himself up for a death sentence. The question is whether this military jury will accommodate him." 

The jury must be unanimous in order for Hasan to receive the death penalty. That sentence triggers an automatic appeal. Ultimately, the US president must approve a military death sentence.

No American soldier has been executed since 1961, in part because many military death sentences have been overturned on appeal.   

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