FORT HOOD — A jury Wednesday condemned Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting rampage at Fort Hood that killed 12 soldiers, one civilian, wounded dozens and shattered the lives of countless families.
The 42-year-old Army psychiatrist kept his head pointed straight forward and slightly down as the jury foreman pronounced its recommended sentence: death.
Spectators showed little reaction, the quiet in the courtroom ending only when presiding judge Col. Tara Osborn banged her gavel, adjourning court nearly four years after the shooting took place.
Security quickly moved Hasan out of the small Fort Hood courtroom to await helicopter travel to Bell County Jail.
He will remain there until the first scheduled military flight to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he will join five former soldiers on death row.
Once Hasan was gone, family members of the fallen quietly embraced with tears in their eyes. One lightly touched the face of another, while one shook the hand of a military prosecutor.
Surviving family members of retired Chief Warrant Officer-2 Michael Cahill, a 62-year-old Cameron resident, were in the courtroom. Cahill’s widow, Joleen Cahill, attended court virtually every time Hasan appeared.
“The panel gave him justice, and I agree with that justice,” said Joleen Cahill, who shared 37 years of marriage with her husband — the lone civilian killed. He died while charging Hasan with a metal chair raised above his head.
“I’m glad it is finally over,” said former Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning, who was shot six times. “I think that is the only appropriate sentence — death — whether he wants it or not.”
Mind of a mass murderer
Wednesday’s sentence comes after a three-week trial that faced numerous complications and delays, including Hasan’s late decision to fire his attorneys and defend himself in court.
It also capped Hasan’s chances to trumpet a Muslim extremist ideology he believes justified the attack as a pre-emptive strike on the enemies of Islam.
Instead of confronting the court, Hasan remained quiet throughout the trial, challenging virtually no evidence, calling no witnesses in his defense and refusing to make any statements explaining his motives.
Hasan instead used the media, strategically leaking documents to Fox News, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Killeen Daily Herald that provided a glimpse into the mind of a mass murderer.
“I was defending my religion,” Hasan stated in a July 31 letter to the Herald in which he referred to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as illegal. In a confidential mental health report from 2010 leaked to the New York Times, Hasan said execution would earn him a martyr’s death.
Families speak out
Several family members of those killed spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time since the trial’s start, imploring scores of reporters gathered on post to move past Hasan and focus on the victims and the actions of first responders on that day.
“The media will decide whose voice will be heard and whose face will be remembered,” said Keely Vanacker, the Cahills’ daughter. “Our hope is not the voice of murderers, and terrorists, but it is the voice of those who stood and those who continue to stand in a true and honorable defense of others.”
The trial’s end also begins an automatic appeals process that may take years to complete. Hasan is guaranteed appeals through both military and civilian criminal courts. His death warrant is further complicated by requiring a signature of the sitting president.
For Manning, it begins another chapter in his quest to change the government designation of the incident from “workplace violence” to “terrorism.”
“At least we have some justice on his part, but there is also a long fight ahead,” Manning said.
The trial’s conclusion also lifts a stay on a civil case that names the Defense Department, the Army and Hasan as financially responsible for losses suffered by victims and their families. Manning is its lead plaintiff.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, both announced their intentions to file legislation Monday that would reclassify the attack as terrorism.
Lives cut short
The jury of 13 Army officers took about two hours to recommend a death sentence for Hasan in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting rampage.
It followed two days of emotional testimony from 16 family members who spoke of the love, loss and the void that remained after their spouses’, sons’ and daughters’ lives were violently cut short.
Lead prosecutor Col. Mike Mulligan went through their heart-wrenching testimony again Wednesday. In seeking a death sentence, Mulligan told the jury to not punish Hasan for his religion, but for the hate he drew from it.
“He is not giving his life; we are taking his life. This is not his gift to God; this is his debt to society. This is not a charitable act; this is the cost of his murderous rampage,” Mulligan said.
“He is not now, and he never will be, a martyr. He is a criminal. He is a cold-blooded murderer.”