A former US Army psychiatrist who carried out the worst-ever mass shooting on an American military base is facing possible execution after a jury of officers found him guilty of all charges last night.
Major Nidal Hasan shot dead 13 comrades and left scores wounded when he went on the rampage in 2009 at a deployment processing centre at Fort Hood, Texas.
After deliberating for just seven hours over two days, a 13-member panel unanimously convicted him of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder, automatically making him eligible for the death penalty. The jury will decide whether to recommend execution by lethal injection after a penalty hearing that will begin Monday.
The panel delivered its verdicts after one of the most peculiar courts martial the US has ever seen. Hasan, a 42-year-old Muslim American, acted as his own lawyer and mounted almost no defence to counter the prosecution’s case that he had planned the killings and carried them out as a jihad against the US for pursuing the war in Afghanistan.
The US military has not executed a service member since 1961. There are five inmates on the military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, all at various stages of the appeals process. But even if the jury recommends the death penalty for Hasan and it is accepted by the judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, the journey to the execution chamber would not be short. Even if he does not seek them, successive appeals are likely to be filed as required by US military law and, in those stages, Hasan would not be allowed to represent himself.
Meanwhile, in another closely watched court martial, jurors at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, in Washington state, determined that another US soldier, who murdered 16 Afghan villagers last year, should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Staff Sgt Robert Bales, 39, opened fire on men, children and elderly women during a shooting spree in Kandahar province last March. In June, he pleaded guilty to the massacre to avoid the death penalty.
On Thursday, he apologised for the killings during his sentencing hearing, calling them an “act of cowardice”.
At Fort Hood, Maj Hasan gave no closing argument and urged Judge Osborn not to allow the jury to try him on lesser charges.
“It wasn’t done under the heat of sudden passion,” he said, before jurors began deliberating. “There was adequate provocation – that these were deploying soldiers that were going to engage in an illegal war.”
Both outcomes represented strong victories for the US government seeking to punish soldiers for the two most troubling and bloody events in the military’s history not tied directly to actual warfare. It came just days after a judge at Fort Meade, in Maryland, sentenced Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for his part in the WikiLeaks scandal.