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Sentencing for Ft. Hood gunman set to begin

August 26, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • This undated file photo provided by the Bell County Sheriff's Department shows Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army major who was found guilty on Friday in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage that left 13 dead.
This undated file photo provided by the Bell County Sheriff's Department… (Bell County Sheriff's Department…)

FT. HOOD, Texas -- Sentencing for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, convicted as the gunman responsible for the deadliest attack on a domestic U.S. military base, is expected to begin Monday, with victims and relatives testifying and Hasan potentially speaking at length about the shootings.

Hasan, 42, was found guilty Friday of premeditated and attempted premeditated murder in connection with the Nov. 5, 2009, shootings at this central Texas Army post, which killed 13 and wounded more than 30. He faces a potential death sentence.

The Army psychiatrist plans to represent himself at sentencing, as he did during his trial.

The military judge in the case, Col. Tara Osborn, urged him Friday to reconsider that decision, noting that sentencing is a crucial, technical, high-stakes stage of the trial for someone with no legal training.

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

Hasan said he still wanted to act as his own attorney.

“You understand that if you continue to represent yourself, you cannot later claim that your representation was ineffective?” she said, noting that Hasan had been found mentally competent.

Hasan said he understood.

His sentence will be decided by the same jury that convicted him -- 13 officers, all of his rank or higher.

An American-born Muslim, Hasan admitted to the shooting during a brief opening statement at his court-martial, saying he switched sides on the eve of his deployment to Afghanistan and attacked U.S. soldiers as a mujahedin, or Muslim guerrilla fighter. He mostly declined to cross-examine witnesses during the trial and made no closing statement.

Military legal experts speculated that Hasan was speeding his case toward sentencing, eager to make a statement without the restrictions placed on a lawyer. Hasan’s military legal advisors have accused him of seeking the death penalty, but Hasan said they were twisting the facts.

Prosecutors successfully argued that Hasan was driven by radical religious beliefs to turn on fellow troops. They plan to call 19 witnesses during the sentencing proceedings, including relatives of the dead and three of the wounded.

They have not released the names of those expected to speak, but a prosecutor told the judge Friday that they plan to talk about the lasting impact on victims’ families, especially their children. They have already submitted victims’ photographs, including some taken from cameras of the dead, into evidence for sentencing.

Afterward the prosecution finishes its presentation, Hasan has the option of making a statement, under oath or not. If he doesn’t take the oath, prosecutors won’t get to cross-examine him.

On Friday, Hasan told the judge he needed time to prepare, perhaps an extra day after the prosecution finishes -- an indication he planned to present something at sentencing.

Hasan is allowed to call witnesses and submit evidence in an attempt to mitigate his sentence. Such evidence could include his military service record, his family background and the fact that he attempted to plead guilty.

However, he has already asked the judge not to tell the jury he tried to plead guilty, (the judge noted that military law bars such pleas in capital cases). It’s not clear whether he plans to call any witnesses to address other mitigating factors.

Hasan has been consulting a mitigation expert, Tim Jon Semmerling, a lawyer who specializes in marshaling such evidence and who has written articles including “Those ‘Evil’ Muslims! Orientalist Fears in Narratives of the War on Terror” and “Effectively Humanizing Our Client.”

Osborn has ordered Semmerling to be available should Hasan decide to call him as a witness.

Should Hasan decide to speak, prosecutors will have a chance to deliver a rebuttal before closing arguments.

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