FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The Army psychiatrist charged in the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military installation will be tried in a military court and face the death penalty if convicted, Fort Hood’s commanding general announced Wednesday.
Maj. Nidal Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the November 2009 shooting spree on the Texas Army post.
A military judge has not been named in the case, and it was not immediately clear when Hasan will be arraigned in a Fort Hood courtroom. He must plead not guilty because it is a death-penalty case, according to military law.
Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell’s decision for Hasan to face a military trial and the death penalty came as no surprise and echoed the recommendations of two Army colonels who also reviewed the case.
“I believe the Army as an institution has long been planning to go this route,” Hasan’s lead attorney John Galligan told The Associated Press on Wednesday from his office near Fort Hood, about 125 miles south of Fort Worth.
Many relatives and friends of those who survived the attack on that sunny autumn day reveled in the news Wednesday on social media sites. Staff Sgt. Jeannette Juroff, who was working in a nearby building that day and helped wounded soldiers, said many people affected by the tragedy feel that death is the only appropriate punishment.
“If he’s convicted and sentenced to death, maybe the (victims’) families can get closure because he won’t be here anymore and we’ll no longer have to talk about him,” Juroff told the AP.
Leila Hunt Willingham, whose brother, Spc. Jason Dean “J.D.” Hunt was killed that day, said she has mixed emotions about how Hasan’s case will proceed.
“I’m glad I’m not the one deciding what happens to Hasan,” she said. “People think the default (emotion) is always anger and revenge. … No one seems to understand that the outcome of this will not bring any more peace or closure than what I can get on my own. No matter what happens to Hasan, my brother is still dead.”
Keely Cahill Vanacker, whose father Michael Grant Cahill was the lone civilian killed in the rampage, said she doesn’t think about Hasan.
“This may be unusual and certainly not everyone’s opinion, but worrying about what happens to the man who killed my father — I don’t spend time thinking about it,” Vanacker said. She said she has “full faith in the prosecution team. There will be a fair trial and justice will be done.”
Galligan had urged Fort Hood’s commander at a meeting in May not to seek the death penalty against his client, saying such cases were more costly, time-consuming and restrictive. In cases where death is not a punishment option for military jurors, soldiers convicted of capital murder are automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Galligan has declined to say whether he is considering an insanity defense for his client. He has refused to disclose results of a military mental health panel’s evaluation of Hasan.
The three-member panel determined whether Hasan is competent to stand trial and his mental state during the shootings. It also determined if he had a severe mental illness that day, and if so, whether such a condition prevented him from knowing at the time that his alleged actions were wrong.
Hasan, 40, was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the rampage. He remains jailed in the Bell County Jail, which houses defendants for nearby Fort Hood.
Hasan has attended several brief court hearings and an evidentiary hearing last fall that lasted about two weeks. He sometimes took notes and showed no reaction as 56 witnesses testified, including more than two dozen soldiers who survived gunshot wounds.
Witnesses testified that a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform shouted “Allahu Akbar!” — which is Arabic for “God is great!” — and started shooting in a small but crowded medical building where deploying soldiers are vaccinated and undergo other tests. The gunman fired rapidly, pausing only to reload, even shooting some people as they hid under tables or fled the building, witnesses said. He fatally shot two people who tried to stop him by throwing chairs, and killed three soldiers who were protecting civilian nurses, according to testimony.
The gunman was identified as Hasan, an American-born Muslim who was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan the following month. Before the attack, Hasan bought a laser-equipped semiautomatic handgun and repeatedly visited a firing range, where he honed his skills by shooting at the heads on silhouette targets, witnesses testified during the hearing.