Maj. Nidal Hasan’s death sentence, handed down by a military jury Wednesday, is the type of rare death sentence for a mass murder that approaches some of the most notorious crimes in history.
The nature of the crime matched the treasonous motivations seen in crimes such as the Oklahoma City bombing. And in that case, the chief perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, was handed a relatively swift execution, put to death four years after his conviction.
“Nothing is going to quite fit into an officer shooting fellow soldiers on an Army base and going through a death penalty trial,” said Richard Dieter, an attorney and executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “It is unique, so we don’t know what is going to happen next.”
But Hasan’s trial was made more unique by the fact that it was a military trial, a rare death penalty case put before an Army jury — the last of which was the 2005 trial of Hasan Akbar.
Akbar’s case is perhaps the most similar to Hasan’s. Prosecutors unsuccessfully attempted to introduce evidence that the Fort Hood shooting was a “copy cat” crime of Akbar’s grenade attack on fellow soldiers in Kuwait that killed two and wounded 14.
Like Hasan, Akbar was sentenced to death.
But the sheer body count places it in the realm of the 2012 Aurora, Colo., shooting that claimed the lives of 12 or the shooting carried out by Jared Lee Loughner in 2011 that killed six in Arizona.
However, the suspects in both shootings showed strong evidence of mental illness. And in other similar mass shootings, the gunman either was killed or killed himself, such as George Hennard during the 1991 Luby’s massacre in Killeen that left 24 dead.
Arguing Hasan’s crimes created an “unequivocal” case for the death penalty, lead prosecutor Col. Mike Mulligan noted that Hasan was a trained medical professional, who would have been deployed to help soldiers.
Former Army reservist Shawn Manning, shot six times during the shooting, deployed previously as a part of the 467th Medical Detachment and knew what work they would likely be doing when sent to Afghanistan. Hasan was detailed to the unit as a trained psychiatrist.
“It was not a combat arms unit,” Manning said. “We went out to orphanages and did a lot of humanitarian work. We’d help soldiers instead of engaging in combat.”
Mulligan told the court Hasan should have been delivering compassion and understanding to soldiers. He dealt none of it, Mulligan said. “He only dealt death.”
The jury of 13 officers, who all outranked Hasan, were persuaded, delivering a unanimous sentence in about two hours that Hasan be put to death.
Dieter said given Hasan’s decision to enter no evidence the jury could have looked at as a reason to not condemn him to death by lethal injection, their quick decision was not surprising.
“If you don’t present anything, the question is ‘Do the aggravators outweigh the mitigators?’” he said. “If none are presented, it’s not a hard choice. It’s anything versus zero.”