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Jury could soon have Ft. Hood shooting case

August 21, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • In a courtroom sketch, defense witness Stephen Bennett, right, testifies as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, left, and presiding judge Col. Tara Osborn listen during Hasan's court-martial in Ft. Hood, Texas.
In a courtroom sketch, defense witness Stephen Bennett, right, testifies… (Brigitte Woosley / Associated…)

FT. HOOD, Texas -- After years of delays, the case of accused Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan could soon be in the hands of a military jury.

Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday and Hasan, who is representing himself, was expected to decide Wednesday whether to call witnesses or testify himself.

The Army psychiatrist faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in connection with the shooting at this central Texas Army base on Nov. 5, 2009.

During two weeks of trial, prosecutors summoned nearly 90 witnesses and submitted hundreds of pieces of evidence, arguing that Hasan, an American-born Muslim, was motivated by radical religious beliefs to carefully plan and kill soldiers (although the judge refused to admit much of their motive evidence).

Hasan has admitted to the shooting and attempted to argue that he attacked deploying soldiers to protect Taliban leaders overseas, an argument the judge rejected.

Once Hasan presents his case, the jury of 13 officers, all of Hasan’s rank or higher, will hear closing arguments, receive instructions from the judge and begin deliberations before voting on a verdict. Closings and instructions could take a day, said Geoffrey Corn, a former military prosecutor who is now a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston. That means  deliberations wouldn’t start until Thursday at the earliest.

If convicted, Hasan faces a possible death sentence, although the jury's vote on that must be unanimous.

Should Hasan decide to testify, he could only answer questions, not make statements, the judge emphasized this week. Prosecutors could cross-examine him and present rebuttal evidence.

Military legal experts predicted that although Hasan wants to make his case to the jury directly, he likely will not testify -- because of those factors.

“He wants to be able to tell them why he did it, but he can’t at this phase” of the trial, Corn said.

Under military law, there are no hung juries. The panel, which includes nine colonels, three lieutenant colonels and a major, needs a two-thirds majority to convict and a unanimous vote for a capital murder conviction. The same jury would also handle sentencing, with the unanimous vote required for a death sentence.

John Galligan, a former military judge who represented Hasan at the start of the trial and still visits him in jail, also said he doesn’t expect him to testify.

“I see no benefit to him” taking the stand, Galligan said, adding that the judge, “effectively foreclosed him putting on his defense.”

“I wouldn’t expect any lengthy arguments,” Galligan said.

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