FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Military jurors on Monday began weighing whether the Army psychiatrist who opened fire on his unarmed comrades at Fort Hood deserves the death penalty for an attack that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others.
The sentencing phase will be Maj. Nidal Hasan’s last chance to say in court what he’s spent the last four years telling the military, judges and journalists: that the killing of American soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan was necessary to protect Muslim insurgents.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, showed no reaction after being found guilty last week by the jury of military officers who will now decide whether he should be executed for the November 2009 shooting at the Texas military base.
Hasan — who has admitted carrying out the shooting — is representing himself during his trial. Yet he called no witnesses, declined to testify in his own defense and questioned only three of prosecutors’ nearly 90 witnesses before he was convicted. However, he could make a statement during the trial’s sentencing phase.
The judge, as she has done repeatedly during the trial, asked Hasan on Monday if he wanted to continue representing himself. She went through a series of questions that appeared to be aimed at getting on the record that Hasan was adamant about remaining in charge of his own defense.
“You understand that this is the stage of trial … you are staking your life on decisions you make. You understand?” the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, asked.
“I do,” Hasan said.
She told him that it was “unwise to represent yourself, but it’s your choice.”
At the minimum, the 42-year-old Hasan will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Following his conviction on Friday, Osborn implored Hasan to consider letting his standby attorneys take over for the sentencing phase. He declined.
Jurors deliberated for about seven hours before finding Hasan guilty on all counts. He gave them virtually no alternative, as he didn’t present a defense or make a closing argument.
His silence convinced his court-ordered standby attorneys that Hasan wanted jurors to sentence him to death. Hasan also leaked a report to the media during the trial showing that he told military mental health officials after the attack that he could “still be a martyr” if he were executed by the government.
Hasan was prohibited from making a “defense of others” strategy during the guilt or innocence phase of his trial, but he will have more latitude during the sentencing portion. This has led legal experts and his civilian lawyer, John Galligan, to believe that Hasan could put himself on the witness stand this week.
Osborn didn’t ask Hasan whether he might testify following his conviction. But she did ask whether Hasan felt he had been subject to “illegal punishment” or been unfairly restricted since being put in custody after the shooting.
He told Osborn on Friday he wasn’t ready to answer.
Prosecutors want Hasan to join just five other U.S. service members currently on military death row, and are planning to put more than a dozen grieving relatives on the witness stand. Three soldiers who survived being shot by Hasan but were left debilitated or unfit for service are also expected to testify.
But most will be widows, mothers, children and siblings of the slain, who are expected to tell a jury of 13 high-ranking military officers about their loves ones and describe the pain of living the last four years without them.
What they won’t be allowed to talk about are their feelings toward Hasan or what punishment they think he deserves.
Osborn told military prosecutors Friday to make sure their witnesses understood what topics were out of bounds. She was also considering excluding some family photos that could be considered duplicative, such as two different pictures of a victim in uniform.
“I understand the family members have memories of their loved ones,” Osborn said. “But that’s not part of the ruling I must make in a court of law.”
Jurors must be unanimous to sentence him to death.
No American soldier has been executed since 1961. Many military death row inmates have had their sentences overturned on appeal, which are automatic when jurors vote for the death penalty. The U.S. president must eventually approve a military death sentence.
Associated Press writers Will Weissert and Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.