It was arguably the most highly anticipated verdict in Central Texas history. And yet, it also was probably the most anticlimactic.
A 13-member military panel found Maj. Nidal Hasan guilty of murder Friday — an outcome that was never really in doubt.
Still, it was gratifying to finally have a resolution to the tragic shooting that left 13 people dead and 32 others wounded at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center nearly four years ago.
Months of legal wrangling — including battles over the defendant’s legal representation, courtroom strategy, personal appearance and the appointment of a new presiding judge — caused agonizing delays for the shooting’s survivors and victims’ families.
But once the trial got underway, it moved surprisingly quickly, with the first phase ending just 13 days after it began.
The jury’s unanimous guilty verdict on all counts followed 11 days of chilling testimony, graphic images and forensic evidence that left no doubt as to Hasan’s culpability in carrying out the nation’s worst mass shooting on a military installation.
The evidence against Hasan was decisive and overwhelming — a fact the defendant acknowledged in his opening statement on Aug. 6. And the government showcased that evidence in presenting a 90-minute closing statement on Thursday, complete with slides and graphic crime-scene video.
The only question seemed to be whether the shooting was premeditated — and even that seemed like a foregone conclusion by the time the prosecution wrapped up its closing argument.
In all, the jury of nine colonels, three lieutenant colonels and one major deliberated nearly 7 hours, delivering the long-anticipated verdict just after noon Friday.
Through the entire trial, Hasan had little to say. He cross-examined only three witnesses out of the 89 called to testify. He asked only two questions of the judge. He rested his case Wednesday without calling a single witness. He also declined to give a closing statement Thursday.
Again Friday, Hasan said nothing when the verdict was read.
But his strategy of remaining silent could change when the trial shifts to the punishment phase this week.
Many, including Hasan’s defense counsel, believe the former Army psychiatrist wants a death sentence. The American-born Muslim soldier told a sanity board in 2010 that his execution would make him a martyr.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, Hasan will have more latitude to make statements in court. This would be an opportune time for Hasan to offer his rationale for the attack and defend his motives — something he has done previously in letters and documents provided to the Herald and Fox News.
No matter what Hasan offers in his defense, however, the preponderance of evidence points toward premeditation on his part — the finding of which is required for a death sentence.
Over the next several days, the jury will hear even more emotional testimony from witnesses, survivors and victims’ families. They will be allowed to tell the court how their lives were impacted by the shooting, and they will be allowed to address Hasan as well.
Much of it will not be easy to hear — nor should it be. It’s important that their stories be told in detail, and that the jury weigh their suffering when considering Hasan’s punishment.
Will Hasan receive a death sentence? That seems to be the only major question remaining in this trial.
It’s an answer the Fort Hood community anxiously awaits.