FORT HOOD, Texas – Military prosecutors rested their case Tuesday against the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people during the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, but whether the soldier plans to do anything to defend himself remains to be seen.
After calling nearly 90 witnesses in only 11 days, prosecutors completed their case against Maj. Nidal Hasan. The soldier also is accused of wounding more than 30 people at the Texas Army post during the attack, the worst mass shooting ever on a U.S. military base.
The judge then adjourned the trial for the day, meaning Hasan could begin his case Wednesday – but he indicated Tuesday that he planned to call no witnesses. When reminded by the judge when it was time to formally argue that prosecutors hadn’t proven their case, Hasan declined.
In fact, Hasan has sat mostly silent during the trial despite acting as his own defense attorney. He has questioned only three witnesses and raised few objections, leaving even the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, skeptical about whether he would try to convince jurors not to convict him.
“We’ll resume tomorrow with the defense’s case, if any,” she said.
If convicted, Hasan could face the death penalty. He is charged with numerous counts of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder.
Osborn reminded Hasan that if he takes the witness stand, he would be required to ask and answer his own questions and couldn’t simply make a statement. She also – again – advised him to take advantage of his standby attorneys, then asked if he still wanted to represent himself.
“I do,” Hasan said.
But he told the judge he no longer planned to call a professor of psychology and religion at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He did not give a reason, but the professor was the last of two witnesses Hasan had initially said might testify.
The move visibly concerned Osborn, who said she wanted the professor at Fort Hood in case Hasan changed his mind.
“I object. I’m not going to be using him,” Hasan said. “So to waste his time when he has other professional responsibilities doesn’t seem fitting, when I don’t intend to use him.”
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, began the trial by telling jurors that evidence would show he was the gunman but that it wouldn’t tell the whole story. Since then, he has leaked documents to the media, seemingly to justify the attack as a defense of his faith. One leaked report showed that he told mental health experts after the attack that he believed he could be a martyr if convicted and executed by the government.
Prosecution witnesses, including several soldiers shot during the rampage, described how a lone gunman wearing Army fatigues shouted “Allahu Akbar!” – Arabic for “God is great!” – before drawing a laser-sighted pistol and opening fire inside a medical building at the Army post on Nov. 5, 2009. The building was crowded with unarmed soldiers, many preparing for deployments, getting vaccines and tests.
When asked to identify the gunman, witnesses pointed at Hasan, who was left paralyzed and wheelchair-bound after being shot by officers responding to the rampage.
Testimony from medical examiners revealed that at leave five of those killed were shot while lying down. An FBI agent testified that Hasan’s apartment was nearly barren when searched the night of the shootings, finding little more than a folding table and prayer mat.
Among the three witnesses Hasan questioned was his former supervisor, retired Lt. Col. Ben Phillips. Hasan mumbled rambling questions about “medical personnel initiating mercy killings” and a water supply in Iraq being contaminated with gas. He was cut off by prosecutors’ objection, which was upheld by the judge.
Immediately after prosecutors rested their case Tuesday, the judge reminded Hasan that he could make a motion asking her to find him not guilty, if he believed prosecutors hadn’t proven their case. Hasan — in a rare move — then turned to one of his standby attorneys, who flipped through a law book to point out the appropriate regulation.
Hasan read for several minutes, but when asked again by Osborn if he had any motion, he said: “I do not.”
Evidence has largely been on prosecutors’ side, but Osborn handed them a setback on Monday by blocking much of the evidence that they said would explain Hansan’s motive.
That evidence included references to Hasan Akbar, a Muslim soldier sentenced to death for attacking fellow soldiers in Kuwait during the 2003 Iraq invasion. Prosecutors wanted to suggest that Hasan’s attack was a “copycat,” but the judge said such material would result in a “confusion of issues, unfair prejudice, waste of time and undo delay.”
The military defense attorneys ordered to help Hasan during the trial have accused him of trying to secure himself a death sentence. They have asked that their responsibilities be cut back, but Osborn has denied their requests. They have remained in the courtroom, but Hasan rarely speaks to them.
The specter of an almost-certain appeal has hung over the long-delayed case. If Hasan gets a death sentence, the case would automatically go to the military appeals courts, which have overturned most of the death sentences they have reviewed.