A military jury on Wednesday sentenced Maj. Nidal Hasan to death for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, delivering the only punishment the Army believed fit for an attack on fellow unarmed soldiers. The sentence also was one that Hasan appeared to seek in a self-proclaimed effort to become a martyr.
The American-born Muslim, who has said he acted to protect Islamic insurgents abroad from American aggression, never denied killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 others at the Texas military base. In opening statements, he told jurors that evidence would show he was the shooter and described himself as a soldier who had “switched sides.”
The same jurors who convicted Hasan last week needed to agree unanimously on a death sentence on Wednesday, though the 42-year-old faced a minimum sentence of life in prison.
Kathy Platoni, an Army reservist who still struggles with images of Capt. John Gaffaney bleeding to death near her, said she was surprised by the verdict but not opposed to the punishment.
“What Nidal Hasan wanted was to be a martyr and so many of the (victims’) families had spoken to the issue of not giving him what he wants because this is his own personal holy war,” said Platoni, who watched most of the trial from inside the courtroom.
“But on the other hand, this is from the bottom of my heart, he doesn’t deserve to live,” she said. “I don’t know how long it takes for a death sentence to be carried out, but the world will be a better place without him.”
Hasan had no visible reaction when the verdict was read, staring first at the jury forewoman and then at the judge. Some victims’ relatives were in the courtroom but also showed no reaction, which the judge had warned against before the verdict.
Officials said Hasan will be taken back to a county jail and then transported on the first available military flight to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
Hasan could become the first American soldier executed in more than half a century. But because the military justice system requires a lengthy appeals process, years or even decades could pass before he is put to death.
In his final plea for a rare military death sentence, the lead prosecutor assured jurors earlier Wednesday that Hasan would “never be a martyr” despite his attempt to tie the attack to religion.
“He is a criminal. He is a cold-blooded murderer,” Col. Mike Mulligan said. “This is not his gift to G-d. This is his debt to society. This is the cost of his murderous rampage.”
For nearly four years, the federal government has sought to execute Hasan, believing that any sentence short of a lethal injection would deny justice to the families of the dead and the survivors who had believed they were safe behind the gates of Fort Hood, a sprawling Army post about 70 miles north of Austin.
And for just as long, Hasan seemed content to go to the death chamber for his beliefs. He fired his own attorneys to represent himself, barely put up a defense during a three-week trial and made almost no effort to have his life spared.
Mulligan reminded the jury that Hasan was a trained doctor yet opened fire on defenseless comrades. Hasan “only dealt death,” the prosecutor said, so the only appropriate sentence was death.
During the trial, Hasan leaked documents to journalists that revealed he told military mental health workers in 2010 that he could “still be a martyr” if executed by the government.