FORT HOOD — Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was found guilty Friday of the worst mass shooting on a military base in U.S. history.
A military jury of 11 men and two women deliberated for nearly seven hours before unanimously finding him guilty on all 13 charges of premeditated murder in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting spree that also injured more than 30.
Those jurors — who all outrank Hasan — will now weigh whether the crime earns the 42-year-old Army psychiatrist life in prison or death by lethal injection. Hasan’s sentencing trial begins Monday.
Hasan sat with a stoic lack of expression on his face looking at the foreman of the jury, a female colonel and the panel’s highest-ranking officer, and then downward as she read the verdict aloud: “Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, this court finds you unanimously guilty on the original charge of premeditated murder.”
After the verdict was read, about a dozen family members present in the court held hands and cried silently. The presiding judge, Col. Tara Osborn, warned the gallery she would not allow any emotional outbursts. Several embraced each other outside the small courtroom after the hearing concluded.
“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.”
43 months since attack
The eagerly anticipated verdict came more than 43 months after Hasan entered the Soldier Readiness Processing Center’s medical building and opened fire.
At roughly 1:15 p.m., Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar” and began firing more than 200 bullets from his laser-sighted FN 5-7 pistol at anyone wearing an Army uniform. The majority of victims — dead and wounded — were soldiers. Hasan killed one civilian, retired Chief Warrant Officer-2 Michael Cahill, and wounded former Fort Hood police Sgt. Kimberly Munley.
The attack jarred the Fort Hood community as much as it shocked the 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 — a doctor — would turn a gun on fellow soldiers.
The case 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 such as New York City and Boston.
Instead, Hasan attacked soldiers in the heart of what is arguably the largest U.S. military base in the world. His choice of targets 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. “It was like the real thing, and it was the real thing for those in the processing center.”
Politicians and victims 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 identify Hasan as a threat, who many have called a “homegrown terrorist.”
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 at the bearded soldier wearing in combat fatigues who sat roughly 20 feet in front of them.
The day of the shooting held no particular symbolic significance to Hasan. He had been to the site several times before the shooting, quarreling with workers at one point over whether he needed a vaccine.
Hasan’s impending deployment to Afghanistan may have been his breaking point.
For at least three years, the officer showed conflicts with entering a war zone where the enemy was Muslim. He sought to avoid it by continuing his psychiatric training.
On Oct. 14, 2009, he learned he was to deploy to Afghanistan.
With a conviction in hand, the trial now moves to the sentencing phase. It is essentially a second abbreviated trial in which the family members of those killed will likely give heart-wrenching testimony.
Hasan said Friday he will continue to represent himself despite a warning from the judge, who said his decision was “unwise.”
Hasan will be allowed to make a statement and can present mitigating factors, such as glowing performance reviews that indicate he was a dutiful soldier prior to the shooting. The prosecution will attempt to prove “aggravating factors” — in this case, that Hasan committed multiple murders — in the hope that those factors outweigh any mitigating evidence.
All 13 jurors made assurances they could assess a death penalty.
Before the trial
Hasan’s defense team attempted to move the trial to another base to put some distance between it and the scene of the crime, about two miles from the small military court known as the Lawrence H. Williams Judicial Center. Instead, the court flew in jurors from various locations across the continental U.S.
The Army appointed Osborn to the case after an appeals court ousted the first judge, 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 in defiance of 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 Osborn to the case in December. She revisited several of Gross’s rulings and allowed Hasan 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 fellow Muslims in Afghanistan.
Hasan has been largely silent in court since, posing questions to only three of 89 prosecution witnesses during the trial, providing no defense and making no closing argument.
Many legal experts believe Hasan will become more active during sentencing, since he will be able to make a statement without facing cross examination and have another chance to call witnesses. The judge also will have less leeway in restricting his comments.
Rose L. Thayer contributed to this report.
Contact Philip Jankowski at email@example.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.