It has been six years since former Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 and wounded more than 30 others at Fort Hood, and more than two years since he was sentenced to death for his role in one of America’s worst mass shootings.
But a prominent local defense attorney who has represented Hasan in civil court said if residents of Fort Hood and Central Texas are anxiously awaiting Hasan’s execution, they may be waiting indefinitely.
“Is the death penalty in this case going to be sustained on appeal?” asked John P. Galligan, a criminal defense attorney of more than 30 years in Belton. “I say, probably not.”
Galligan said the transcripts of Hasan’s trial must be authenticated and approved before Hasan’s case can be automatically appealed by his defense team, who would then have the opportunity to study the trial, point out any perceived mistakes in the process and to ask for clemency.
In a statement from Fort Hood on Thursday, Army officials confirmed that the court case still needs to be reviewed by the convening authority, which is the post commander.
"Several steps of the post-trial process must occur prior to action by the general court-martial convening authority. These steps include authentication of the record by the military judge, review by the staff judge advocate, and potential submission of clemency matters by the accused. The current General Court-Martial Convening Authority is Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland. The completed record has not been forwarded to the convening authority and may be presented to him or any successor in command without restarting the post-trial process," Fort Hood officials said.
Galligan, who is working to represent Hasan in the appeals process, said there are more than a few legal matters that could be problematic for the Army in how it handled Hasan’s trial.
“He was effectively foreclosed of any meaningful opportunity to testify,” Galligan said. “The judge told him pretrial he wasn’t going to allow him to argue or present evidence on this business about defense of thirds.”
The defense of thirds, Galligan said, is likely referring to Hasan’s perception that his murderous actions that day might save the lives of civilians in the Middle East.
“His intent in this would have been to save the lives of Iraqi children and people that were being bombed,” Galligan said.
Also, the Army refused to pay for a physiologist who could have evaluated the crippling injuries Hasan suffered after he himself was shot and who should have been able to testify as such, according to Galligan.
“If a jury had been at least presented with those things, I think there would have at least been a possibility” that Hasan could have been granted life in prison instead of the death penalty, Galligan said.
Since taking Hasan’s case, Galligan said life has been difficult.
“We had threats here when that case started,” Galligan said. “You should listen to some of the voicemails that came into this office. I had to make sure doors were locked. It wasn’t nice at all. But that kind of comes with the territory. I’ve remained committed to his cause since day one. I still keep in touch with his family members.”
It was that strong and toxic public opinion along with politics, Galligan said, that could eventually bring about the reversal of Hasan’s death sentence.
“The bank wouldn’t even cash his checks,” Galligan said.
“They wouldn’t take his checks because they knew who he was. I joke with people who ask me if Hasan got a fair trial at Fort Hood. He couldn’t even get a bank account at Fort Hood, much less a fair trial.”