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Hasan's attorney says his goal is a fair trial

John Galligan, a retired Army colonel who is defending the suspected Ft. Hood gunman, has been involved in other high-profile military cases.

November 12, 2009|Cox Newspapers

BELTON, TEXAS — For days, retired Army Col. John Galligan tracked each wrenching update about the shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, the place where he had spent the final months of a 30-year military career.

As a former military lawyer, he ran through his mind the legal issues in a possible case against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the man accused in the shootings, including whether Hasan could get a fair trial there.

Then, the phone rang at his limestone office on this town's main street: Hasan's family wanted to hire him.

Within 24 hours, Galligan was introducing himself to the soldier whose picture he had seen in newspapers and on national television.

"Anytime anyone wants me to help a soldier, I'm pleased," said Galligan, 61, who operates a private practice in Belton, about 16 miles east of Ft. Hood. "It's an extension of my service. Soldiers defend us, and I think it is only proper we defend them."

On Tuesday, the day after he went public as Hasan's attorney, Galligan was at the Bell County Courthouse handling state felony cases, which make up about half his business. He attended the sentencing of a man already convicted of sexual assault and prepared for a trial next week for another suspect on the same charge.

In between, Galligan was bombarded by reporters who showed up at his office and with calls from friends and strangers.

Fellow defense attorneys, he said, support him in his quest to make sure Hasan's rights are protected as a military investigation into the massacre continues. But others questioned how he could have accepted a case involving the man accused of killing 13 people and wounding dozens on a U.S. military post.

Galligan said he has a standard answer for similar questions when he represents suspected rapists and child molesters. He said it applies to Hasan as well. "My goal is to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial," Galligan said.

The lawyer would not comment on his conversation with Hasan, other than to say that the two talked for about 30 minutes. However, he did say that one of his first actions afterward was to notify investigators that Hasan had an attorney and would not be answering questions.

Galligan said he has requested that a military-appointed lawyer work with him.

"John, he is one who believes in the Constitution," said Joe Trevino Jr., president of the Belton Concerned Community Alliance and a friend of Galligan's. "People are justified in their sadness and anger, but with John, our American justice system is still the place that guarantees citizens have the right to legal representation.

"People should be proud there are people like John who can ensure his rights are intact," Trevino said.

Hasan has not been formally charged in the mass shooting -- a fact Galligan repeatedly pointed out -- even though Ft. Hood officials have identified him as the lone gunman.

Military legal experts have said that prosecutors probably will seek the death penalty against Hasan; Galligan said he has never tried a case in which the defendant faced execution.

According to his website, Galligan was a career military lawyer who served in the Army's litigation division and was named circuit judge at Ft. Hood in 1997.

In private practice, he has been involved in other high-profile military cases.

Four years ago, he represented Army Capt. Shawn L. Martin, who was accused of terrorizing an Iraqi town's residents with threats, a pistol and a baseball bat. In a trial at Ft. Carson, Colo., Martin was convicted of three counts of assault on Iraqis but acquitted on charges stemming from an alleged assault of one of his soldiers.

More recently, Galligan was the attorney for Ft. Hood Master Sgt. Terry Peggins amid allegations that he lied about when he last spoke to a soldier, Sgt. Lawrence Sprader, who died during a training exercise.

Prosecutors decided that Peggins would not face a court-martial, but he received a letter of reprimand over the incident.

On the night he met Hasan, Galligan said, he tried to detach himself from everything he'd heard about his newest client. He wanted to focus only on facts.

"You need to approach a person in a case almost as if you can't see their face -- their rank, their history," Galligan said.

He said he was more nervous about what Hasan thought of him, a feeling he said he almost always has after such first-time meetings.

"I hope they trust me, [that] they know that I'm in it for them, and that I'm going to do the right thing," Galligan said.

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