FORT HOOD (August 26, 2013)-- A 13-member panel of Army officers could make a decision before the end of the day Monday about whether Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan, 42, lives or dies.
(Sketch by Brigitte Woosley)
The panel returns to court Monday to hear testimony in the sentencing phase of the court-martial of the former Army psychiatrist.
Before the proceedings started Monday, military judge Col. Tara Osborn reminded Hasan outside the presence of the jury that the team of attorneys she assigned to assist him as needed is still standing by.
“Any of them can jump back in and act as your lawyers as soon as you need them,” she told Hasan.
She also reminded Hasan that he will continue to have to abide by the same standards as an attorney during the proceedings.
"This is the stage of the trial when the panel decides whether you should live or you should die,” she told him.
“You are staking your life on the decisions you make."
Prosecutors plan to call about 20 witnesses, many of them relatives of the 13 people who were killed in the Nov. 5, 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Center.
Jurors must decide whether to sentence to Hasan to spend the rest of his life in prison or to death.
A death sentence requires a unanimous vote of the panel.
The panel convicted Hasan on all counts Friday.
He was charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of unpremeditated murder in the deadly rampage.
It’s not clear whether he plans to mount any defense in this phase of the court-martial after he mostly remained silent during the longer guilt or innocence phase.
Osborn again advised Hasan Friday that she thought it was unwise for him to act as his own attorney, but Hasan said he will continue to represent himself.
"This is the time when members decide whether you should live or die," she told the Army psychiatrist.
The guilty verdict Friday generally came as no surprise.
“Justice has been served,” retired Army Staff Sgt. Howard Ray, who survived the rampage without injury, told the Associated Press after the verdict.
He told AP the verdict sends the message that the military “isn’t going to mess with this kind of terrorism.”
Ray, 33, who now lives in Rochelle, said Hasan fired several times in his direction, but missed.
He said he struggled with nightmares and anxiety for a year after the shooting.
U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, whose district includes Fort Hood, said he was happy with, but not surprised by the verdict.
“I have been keeping up with the trial and believe the judge did a great job of protecting the constitutional integrity of this trial, ensuring a guilty verdict. We must now wait and see what Major Hasan’s sentence will be. I hope an appropriate sentence will be handed down by the court, keeping Major Hasan from becoming a martyr for his cause,” he said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Weatherford, whose district also includes part of the sprawling post, called the verdict “the beginning of justice being served.”
But Williams, who has been working with Carter to make shooting victims eligible for a wider range of benefits, said it’s time for the Obama administration to classify the rampage as an act of terrorism rather than workplace violence.
“Hasan admitted to shooting his fellow soldiers, saying he switched sides in what he called a U.S. war on Islam. Leading up to the trial, he told potential jurors that he supports the Taliban and Sharia law,” Williams said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said Carter has his support in the effort to win broader benefits for the victims.
“We must now continue our work to ensure that those killed and wounded at Fort Hood receive the same benefits and honors as their counterparts who are wounded or killed in an overseas combat zone or in a declared terrorist attack,” he said.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also said the victims deserve to be recognized for their sacrifice.
"We must turn our attention to ensuring that the victims of this horrible tragedy and their families receive the full honors and benefits bestowed upon soldiers who are wounded or killed in overseas combat zones,” he said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Hasan’s attack “was a deliberate act of terror against our country.”
“This guilty verdict affirms we are a nation of laws, honors the victims of this heinous act, and proves that, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy, we will never waver from the core principles for which they gave their lives: freedom, liberty and democracy,” he said.
Over the course of more than two weeks, the panel heard testimony from nearly 90 witnesses.
Hasan is representing himself, but spoke rarely during the proceedings and questioned only three of the witnesses.
On Wednesday he rested his case without calling any witnesses or taking the stand himself.
Military prosecutors told jurors in closing arguments Thursday that Hasan planned the attack that left 13 dead and more than 30 injured.
Hasan, who’s representing himself, chose not to argue his case.
Prosecutor, Col. Steve Henricks, asked jurors during his closing argument Thursday to convict Maj. Nidal Hasan unanimously of premeditated murder, which would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
He said there’s no doubt the Army psychiatrist carried out the attack.
He said Hasan asked for the highest-tech weapon available when he went to a gun store a few months before the attack and then began practicing with it.
Hasan also used laser sights, which Henricks says "established intent to kill."
Henricks asked the panel to consider the fact that Hasan was carrying 420 rounds of ammunition.
"That was not a combat load, but a kill load, because he knew what he was going to do at station 13, a station that he made into his personal kill section," Henricks said.
Station 13 is where many soldiers died.
On Nov. 5, 2009, soldiers filled 45 chairs in the approximately 19-by-10-foot area.
It's where witnesses said Hasan sat with his head down before he stood up, yelled "Allahu, Akbar!" and then opened fire on them.