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Fort Hood killer sentenced to death

Hasan doesn’t speak; appeals process lengthy

Hasan

Nidal Malik Hasan was sentenced to death Wednesday for killing 13 people and wounding 32 others in a 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, the worst mass murder at a military installation in U.S. history.

Dressed in Army fatigues, Hasan, who turns 43 next month, listened impassively as the death penalty was handed down by a panel of 13 senior military officers in a unanimous decision. If even a single panel member had objected, Hasan would instead have been sentenced to life in prison.

The jury deliberated for a little more than two hours.

Hasan was dismissed from the Army and stripped of his pay and other benefits, which he had continued to receive while awaiting trial. He will be transferred to a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on the first available military flight, officials said.

Hasan was previously found guilty on all 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 of attempted premeditated murder after opening fire Nov. 5, 2009, at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where troops were getting medical checkups before deployments to Afghanistan.

The Army psychiatrist, who also was due to deploy to Afghanistan a few weeks later, shouted “Allahu akbar!” meaning “God is great,” before targeting unarmed soldiers with a high-powered, high-capacity handgun he had fitted with laser sights. He was apprehended by military police officers after firing more than 200 shots.

Prosecutors aggressively pursued the death sentence during the 22-day court-martial this month, calling more than 100 witnesses, including 20 surviving victims and relatives of the deceased, to testify in a courtroom just a few miles from the base.

During two days of sentencing evidence, they described, in often emotional testimony, how the incident had changed their lives.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler, who was shot four times, told the court, “I was expected to either die or remain in a vegetative state.”

Zeigler’s left side remains partially paralyzed, and he said that his personality has changed and that he is “a lot angrier, a lot darker than I used to be.”

The father of a pregnant 21-year-old private from Chicago, Francheska Velez, who was fatally shot as she pleaded for the life of her baby, testified in Spanish that Hasan had also “killed me slowly.”

Velez was one of three women killed in the attack. The 13 dead ranged in age from 19 to 62.

The court heard that Hasan had carefully planned his attack, training at a local firing range and researching jihad on his computer. The FBI and Department of Defense have drawn criticism for failing to prevent the attack after missing warning signs.

Hasan, an American-born Muslim, had exchanged emails with a leading al-Qaida figure in which he asked whether those attacking fellow soldiers were martyrs. The emails were seen by the FBI. Hasan also once gave a presentation to Army doctors discussing Islam and suicide bombers and said Muslims should be allowed to leave the armed forces as conscientious objectors to avoid “adverse events.”

Hasan tried to plead guilty before the start of the trial but was unable to do so under military rules governing death penalty cases. He ignored the judge’s advice and opted to act as his own attorney.

He called no witnesses, offered no testimony and declined a final opportunity to speak Wednesday morning when he opted not to deliver a closing statement.

Delivering his closing argument, the lead prosecutor, Col. Mike Mulligan, told panel members it would be wrong to link Hasan’s actions to a wider religious cause.

“He’ll never be a martyr,” Mulligan said, according to news agencies. “This is not his gift to God. This is his debt to society. This is the cost of his murderous rampage.”

The prosecutor added: “It was conscious decision to commit murder to serve his own needs, his own wants. His attack by him was all about him. This is about his soul; for his soul, he stole life from 13 others.”

The death penalty is rare in military cases, and legal experts said it will likely be many years, if ever, before the lethal injection can be administered.

There are several mandatory appeal stages, and no active-duty soldier has been executed since 1961, although several are on death row. A military death sentence requires final approval by the president, as commander in chief.

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