FORT HOOD — Maj. Nidal Hasan called no witnesses Wednesday, confining his defense to three words: “The defense rests.”
The 42-year-old Army psychiatrist is accused of committing the worst mass shooting on a military base in U.S. history. If convicted, Hasan could face the death penalty.
The presiding judge, Col. Tara Osborn, sent the jury home for the day while prosecutors prepared instructions and charges, which will be delivered to the all-officer panel of 13 today. The court will then hold closing arguments.
In a hearing outside of the jury’s presence Wednesday, Hasan said military action in Iraq and Afghanistan provoked him to attack soldiers.
“These were deploying soldiers that would engage in an illegal war,” Hasan said.
Hasan will have his final chance prior to the verdict to reveal his motive for carrying out the shooting to the jury today during closing arguments. The judge has limited his ability to call the shooting a pre-emptive attack against soldiers. Hasan indicated he wanted to argue the attack saved the lives of fellow Muslims in Afghanistan.
Before the start of his court-martial, Osborn ruled Hasan’s so-called “defense of others” strategy would not hold up in court. Had Hasan taken the stand Wednesday, the judge said she would have ordered the jury to disregard any statements he would make to a religiously motivated attack. But Hasan also would have been forced to submit himself to cross-examination by a team of prosecutors military law experts regard as some of the best trial lawyers in the armed forces.
Hasan’s lack of action throughout the trial has fueled speculation he is waiting until sentencing to take the stand. During that phase, Hasan will have few limitations as to what he can say.
Hasan faces a total of 45 charges of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting at a medical processing unit on post that killed 13 and wounded more than 30.
However, the formal charge sheet being prepared Wednesday contains hundreds of lesser charges. Hasan could be convicted of a range of charges, including aggravated assault with intent to kill, involuntary manslaughter and unpremeditated murder.
Prosecutors will argue for a unanimous guilty verdict to counts of premeditated murder, a capital charge, to give Hasan the death penalty.
A guilty verdict appears to be a foregone conclusion. Hasan declared at the outset of the trial, “I am the shooter,” and has not attempted to refute the testimony of virtually all the prosecution’s witnesses. Though he had two witnesses listed for possible testimony — a theology professor and a mitigation specialist — he called neither.
In contrast, government prosecutors called 89 witnesses, including numerous shooting victims and witnesses who identified Hasan as the shooter.
Prosecutors entered more than 700 pieces of evidence into the case. Hasan entered one, a page from a Nov. 2, 2009, officer evaluation report that gives high praise to the major.
The author of the report, Lt. Col. Ben Phillips, was Hasan’s superior officer at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center. Phillips also delivered the news of Hasan’s impending deployment to Afghanistan less than one month before the shooting occurred.
“His reaction was relatively calm and collected,” Phillips testified on the first day of trial. “He indicated he was not surprised.”
Despite his stoic reaction, Hasan had previously told a colleague at the military hospital the Army would “pay” if it ordered him to either Iraq or Afghanistan.
“The last thing he said to me is ‘They will pay,’” Dr. Tonya Kozminski testified Tuesday.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.