News Guide: Fort Hood shootings trial questions
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Jurors began deliberating Thursday in the case of the Army psychiatrist accused in the Fort Hood shooting rampage. Maj. Nidal Hasan is charged in the attack that killed 13 people and wound more than 30 others at the Texas military base on Nov. 5, 2009. Hasan, who is representing himself, called no witnesses in his defense and did not give a closing argument.
Here are some details about the case and what happened during the trial:
WHAT CHARGES DOES HASAN FACE?
Jurors are deciding 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted premeditated murder against Hasan under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
WHY DID THE CASE TAKE SO LONG TO GET TO TRIAL?
Judges in the case granted a series of delays for preparation or other issues, often at the request of Hasan or his attorneys. A fight over Hasan’s beard, which violates military regulations, led to a reprieve shortly before the trial was expected to begin last year and the eventual replacement of the judge. Legal experts have said authorities are doing their best to avoid mistakes, noting that Hasan would have multiple mandatory appeals if he’s found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Military appeals courts have overturned most death sentences they’ve seen in the last three decades.
WHAT DID VICTIMS SAY AT TRIAL?
Witnesses built a gory, detailed picture about what happened inside Fort Hood the afternoon of Nov. 5, 2009. They said a gunman shouted “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” — before opening fire on unarmed soldiers, many of whom were getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. A nurse working at the center, Ted Coukoulis, recalled people trying to save wounded soldiers who were dead or quickly bleeding to death. “I don’t know how much blood I swallowed that day,” he told jurors. Many soldiers thought the gunfire was a training exercise, and some didn’t realize it was an attack until they were hit by bullets. Others recalled hearing a wounded soldier cry out, “My baby!” One of the soldiers who was killed, Pvt. Franceska Velez, was pregnant.
WHAT DID HASAN SAY?
Hasan acted as his own attorney but called no witnesses in his defense said little during the trial. He wanted to argue that he carried out the shooting in “defense of others” — namely, Taliban insurgents fighting American soldiers in Afghanistan — but the judge denied that strategy before the trial started. Hasan told jurors during a brief opening statement that the evidence would “clearly show” he was the gunman, but that it wouldn’t tell the whole story. He cross-examined only three of prosecutors’ nearly 90 witnesses, including mumbling through a series of questions while asking his former supervisor about “medical personnel initiating mercy killings.” He made few objections but did challenge the government’s definition of “jihad,” successfully asking the judge that jurors be told that, “under Islam, the central doctrine that calls on believers to combat enemies of the religious belief.”
WHAT IS HASAN’S PHYSICAL CONDITION?
Hasan was shot in the back by officers responding to the shootings. He is paralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair, uses a catheter and wears adult diapers. His doctor testified earlier this year that Hasan cannot sit upright for more than 12 hours a day without his concentration being affected. His disabilities haven’t appeared to be an issue in the courtroom. Hasan has been transported from jail to Fort Hood each day by military helicopter.
IS HASAN STILL CONSIDERED A SOLDIER?
Yes. He has retained his rank of major and his salary even in jail. He wore a green camouflage uniform in court, with a green knit cap, instead of the dress uniform defendants typically wear in a court-martial. The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, has said the camouflage uniform was easier for Hasan to wear as a paraplegic.
HOW DOES A MILITARY COURT-MARTIAL DIFFER FROM A CIVILIAN CRIMINAL TRIAL?
The judge, the prosecutors and the attorneys standing by to help Hasan are military officers, as are the 13 jurors, who range in rank from colonel to major. If jurors unanimously find Hasan guilty of premeditated murder, the case will quickly proceed to a capital sentencing hearing, where prosecutors will try to prove one or more aggravating factors that merit a death sentence. One aggravating factor would be the killing of more than one person in a single event. Jurors must be unanimous to sentence him to death. The military courts system also does not have hung juries: If one of the 13 jurors votes Hasan not guilty of murder, he would be declared not guilty.
WHAT HAPPENS IF HE’S SENTENCED TO DEATH?
The death sentence would need to be affirmed by Fort Hood’s convening authority, which would prompt automatic appeals at two military courts for the Army and then the armed forces. If those fail, Hasan could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case and file motions in federal court. The U.S. president must eventually approve a military death sentence. Many death row inmates have had their sentences overturned on appeal, and no active-duty soldier has been executed in the military system since 1961