By Karen Brooks and Jana J. Pruet
A military jury convicted U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan of all 13 charges of premeditated murder and all 32 charges of attempted premeditated murder on Friday for the November 2009 shooting spree against unarmed soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas.
The convictions mean Hasan could face the death penalty by lethal injection, possibly making him the first soldier to be executed by the U.S. military since 1961.
Hasan, seated in a wheelchair as he was paralysed from the waist down when shot by police to end the rampage, stared directly at the jury while the panel’s president read the verdict. Afterward he looked down, stroking his beard.
The jury of 13 officers deliberated about three hours on Thursday afternoon and another three hours on Friday morning. The same panel will begin hearing the penalty phase of the court-martial on Monday and make a recommendation to the judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, who will determine the sentence.
Hasan, 42, told mental health evaluators he wanted to become a martyr, court documents show. Lawyers assisting Hasan said he was actively seeking the death penalty, though Hasan disputed that claim.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim who acted as his own defense lawyer, admitted in his opening statement to killing 13 people and wounding 31, saying he switched sides in what he considered a U.S. war on Islam. He was also charged with attempted premeditated murder on a 32nd person he shot at and missed. Nearly all of the dead and wounded were fellow soldiers.
Beyond the opening admission, the jury rarely heard from Hasan, who declined to make a closing argument on Thursday and rested his case on Wednesday without calling witnesses and without testifying in his own defense.
In their closing statement, prosecutors stressed that Hasan’s rampage on Nov. 5, 2009, was premeditated.
Prosecutors called 89 witnesses in two weeks of testimony, with many describing in horrific detail the bloodbath in and around a medical building at Fort Hood. It was the worst non-combat attack ever at a U.S. military base.
For Hasan to be eligible for the death penalty, the jury needed to find he killed at least two people, and at least one of those had to be a unanimous premeditated murder conviction.
Hasan opened fire at an area where soldiers were being evaluated before being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, yelling “Alluha akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), according to several witnesses.
The shootings came at a time of heightened tensions over the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which strained relations between the United States and countries with predominantly Muslim populations.
Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, praised Hasan as a hero and “a man of conscience.” U.S. intelligence officials say Hasan had sent emails to Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. The judge blocked those emails from being submitted as evidence in the trial.
Prosecutors opted against bringing terrorism charges against Hasan, who at one point during the trial told the judge his attack was motivated by “an illegal war” and that he had “adequate provocation” to launch the attack on soldiers readying to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Amid speculation about the emotional toll on victims who may have had to face cross-examination from him, Hasan spared them from questioning.
Hasan’s trial took place at the same time as two other high-profile courts-martial. Also on Friday, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was sentenced to life in prison for killing 16 Afghan civilians in 2012. On Wednesday, U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years for providing secret files to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.