FORT HOOD — The accused Fort Hood shooter will have his chance today to mount a defense to the abundance of evidence against him presented during the last 11 days of his court-martial.
Army prosecutors Tuesday rested their case against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan after calling their 89th and final witness — Hasan’s colleague who recalled him saying, “They will pay,” if he was ever deployed to a war zone.
The 42-year-old Army psychiatrist is accused of the worst mass shooting in U.S. military history, a 2009 shooting spree that left 13 dead inside a soldier processing building.
Hasan faces a likely conviction and possible death sentence.
Over the past two weeks, a panel of 13 superior officers has heard testimony from more than 30 surviving shooting victims and witnesses to the carnage in Building 42003.
Hasan appears to have conceded the verdict, telling the jury at the outset of the trial “I am the shooter,” and
refusing to cross-examine all but three witnesses.
On Tuesday, he told the court he no longer wished to question the sole witness he planned to call in his defense. However, presiding judge, Col. Tara Osborn, told Hasan she would make the witness, a theology professor named Lewis Rambo, available to him.
Rambo is a professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary specializing in religious conversions.
Hasan also may or may not decide to take the stand today.
Former Army lawyer and terrorism expert Jeffrey Addicott said Hasan will not pass up a chance to tell the jury why he committed the shooting.
“I expect him to give the reason he did it, and that is his fanatical belief in radical Islam,” Addicott said.
Texas Tech Professor Richard Rosen, a former staff judge advocate at Fort Hood, said testifying would be the worst mistake Hasan could make.
If Hasan takes the stand, Rosen said, the team of Army officers would likely cross-examine him for hours or even days. They would take Hasan through the crime, guiding him down what could be a lengthy confession to premeditation — a critical point the prosecution must prove in order to secure a death sentence.
If Hasan contests any of their case, prosecutors would likely call rebuttal witnesses to refute him.
Belton attorney John Galligan, who is representing Hasan in a civil matter, said Hasan has no incentive to testify.
“Based on the rulings of the judge, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t present anything at all,” Galligan said. “What’s the point?”
If Hasan is speaking with his defense team at all, they would likely be advising him not to testify, said Geoffrey Corn, a former military lawyer who now teaches at Southern Texas College of Law.
Hasan’s team of three government-appointed defense lawyers have been relegated to standby counsel since Hasan opted to defend himself in trial.
They have attempted to intervene in the case, asking the court to revoke Hasan’s right to represent himself. The judge ruled against them.
“If I’m (former lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris R.) Poppe, what I’m trying to get across is that testifying will only hurt you,” Corn said.
No matter what happens, all three professors said a verdict would likely not be today. The jury has seen profuse amounts of witness testimony and dozens have identified him as the shooter.
On Tuesday, Copperas Cove resident Steven Bennett told the court he saw Hasan with a weapon outside the soldier processing center site. Bennett took pictures of Hasan holding a gun and even spoke to him briefly.
“He told me it was a paintball gun and it was a training exercise,” Bennett said.
The amount of charges against Hasan will require a certain amount of time for the jury to digest. He faces a total of 45 charges.
“They’re serious people. They’ll take their time,” Rosen said.