Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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August 28, 2013

Soldier sentenced to death for Fort Hood shooting

Fort Hood, Texas — FORT HOOD, Texas — 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. Because he didn't dispute the allegations — and put up nearly no defense — the trial has been primarily a pursuit of the death penalty.

The same jurors who convicted Hasan last week needed to agree unanimously on a death sentence. Otherwise, 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 at her feet, said she was surprised by the verdict.

"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 at the jury forewoman and then at the judge. Some victims' relatives were in the courtroom but showed no reaction, which the judge had warned against ahead of 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. The timing on the flight wasn't immediately clear.

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 God. 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 victims and their families.

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 and made almost no effort to have his life spared during his three-week trial. In fact, he told jurors during a brief opening statement that evidence would show he was the shooter and described himself as a soldier who had "switched sides."

The judge had barred Hasan from telling the jury that the shooting was necessary to protect Islamic and Taliban leaders from American troops. So he turned to the media, leaking documents to journalists showing that he told military mental health workers that he could "still be a martyr" if executed by the government.

Witnesses built a gory, detailed picture about what happened the afternoon of Nov. 5, 2009. They said a gunman shouted "Allahu akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — before opening fire in a crowded medical building where unarmed soldiers were waiting to receive immunizations and doctors' clearance. Many were preparing to deploy, while others had recently returned home.

All but one of the dead were soldiers, including a pregnant soldier who witnesses said curled on the floor and cried out, "My baby!"

The attack ended when Hasan was shot in the back by a police officer responding to the shooting. Hasan is now paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair.

The military called nearly 90 witnesses, yet Hasan questioned just three of them. He rested his case without witnesses or testifying, and he made no closing argument. Even with his life at stake during the tiral's sentencing phase, he made no attempt to question any of the additional witnesses called by prosecutors and gave no final statement to jurors.

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