Sitting in his wheelchair with a stoic look on his face, the bearded man wearing Army camouflage quietly listened as the president of the court-martial panel read the verdict:
“Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, this court finds you unanimously guilty on the original charge of premeditated murder,” the colonel said Friday inside a Fort Hood courthouse.
Elsewhere in the courtroom, a dozen people — bonded by the horror of Nov. 5, 2009 — held hands and cried silently. They had family members killed that day.
Nov. 5, 2009
On the day of the shooting, Hasan went to the Killeen Islamic Center and participated in morning prayers. In one conversation there, he told Mohamed Mwaga Salim he apologized for anything he may have done wrong to Salim and that he “was going on a journey.”
A few hours later, armed with Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum and a laser-sighted FN 5.7 handgun he purchased months before at a Killeen gun shop, Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar” and fired more than 200 bullets in and around the medical building of the Soldier Readiness Processing Center.
It’s been described as the worst mass shooting ever on a U.S. military post.
In closing statements last week, prosecutor Col. Steve Henricks said Hasan deliberately picked that date to target two units he knew would be deploying to Afghanistan. Henricks said Hasan carried his medical records to the building where the shooting occurred in order “to fit in” with the dozens of other troops at the center.
“He could not pick a better location, and that was his motivation,” Henricks said of Station 13 in the medical building, adding that Hasan made the crowded waiting area “his personal kill station.”
Waves of shock
The attack jarred the Fort Hood community as much as it shocked the entire nation. It prompted the government to shine a mirror on itself as Army officials came to grips with the harsh reality that a highly educated officer and doctor would turn a gun on fellow soldiers.
It also deepened often displaced suspicions of Islam as the community saw firsthand the violence wrought by Muslim extremists thought to be isolated to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq or at least large metropolises like New York City and Boston.
Instead, Hasan attacked soldiers in what they viewed as the heart of security — the largest U.S. military base in the world. His attack initially baffled soldiers. Witness after witness testified to first believing the shooting was a training exercise before realizing — some even after they had been hit with gunfire — that it was real.
“(The shooting) was like war in my mind,” said former Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock, who was only yards away from the shooting attending a graduation ceremony when it occurred. “It was like the real thing, and it was the real thing for those in the processing center.”
Victims and politicians alike bristled at the Defense Department’s designation of the incident as “workplace violence” instead of terrorism. And several believed the attack was the result of a culture of political correctness that failed to raise the alarm about Hasan, whom many have called a “homegrown terrorist.”
‘I am the shooter’
That the jury would find Hasan guilty seemed a foregone conclusion. Hasan declared “I am the shooter” before the prosecution called its first witness. Over 12 days, the jury heard dozens of witnesses describe the panic and chaos of the macabre scene with several identifying Hasan as the shooter, pointing a single finger at the bearded soldier dressed in combat fatigues who sat roughly 20 feet in front of them.
Henricks replayed a 911 call from the building along with a bloody crime scene video showing the aftermath. He summarized witness accounts of Hasan continuing to fire upon soldiers outside the building, including the testimony of Steven Douglas Bennett, who told the court Hasan was concealing his handgun when Bennett approached him. Hasan then told Bennett to not worry because it was only a training exercise.
“He’s kept his wits about him,” Henricks said. “He’s looking for more soldiers to kill.”
And kill, Hasan did. Thirteen times, including a pregnant woman. Henricks then went through the deaths of each victim, making particular note of Pfc. Frederick Z. Greene, who was one of three killed in the shooting while charging Hasan.
“He had to shoot him 12 times to take him down,” Henricks said. “Why? So he could continue his goals that day … so he could continue to shoot defenseless soldiers that were shot and already on the ground.”
Path to a trial
Hasan’s defense team attempted to move the trial to another base to put some distance between the trial and the scene of the crime. Instead, the court flew in jurors from various locations across the continental United States.
The Army appointed the judge to the case after an appeals court ousted the first judge assigned to the case, Col. Gregory Gross, for an appearance of bias. Gross repeatedly held Hasan in contempt of court, fining him $1,000 every time the major appeared wearing a beard that defied Army appearance regulations.
Appellate judges ruled Gross had become antagonistic toward the defense and overstepped his bounds when he ordered Hasan forcibly shaved.
It caused a one-year delay in the trial and generated public outcry. The Army appointed Col. Tara Osborn as judge in December. She revisited several of Gross’s rulings and allowed Hasan to appear in court with facial hair.
The trial appeared to be back on track after Osborn’s arrival. She set it to begin in May when Hasan announced he fired his attorneys and would defend himself.
Constitutional rights at trial all but forced Osborn to grant Hasan’s request. It fueled speculation Hasan would use the trial as a soapbox for espousing Islamic extremism.
But Osborn ruled Hasan could not tell jurors he attacked Fort Hood soldiers to save the lives of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. She ruled the so-called “defense of others” strategy was too far fetched in this case to be presented before a jury.
Hasan was largely silent in court, posing questions to only three of 89 prosecutions witnesses during the trial, providing no defense and making no closing argument.
A military jury of 11 men and two women who all outrank Hasan deliberated for nearly seven hours before reaching Friday’s guilty verdict.
“I feel like we’ve made some progress,” said Michelle Magee Harper, a phlebotomist at the medical building who witnessed the shooting. “This is only the beginning. There is a long way to go in getting justice for the victims.”
Those jurors began Monday weighing whether the crime earns Hasan life in prison or death by lethal injection.
Contact Philip Jankowski at email@example.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.