Maj. Nidal Hasan, accused in the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood that killed 13 and wounded dozens, is about to get his best chance yet to explain his actions - though whether he will seize the opportunity remains to be seen.
Maj. Nidal Hasan, accused in the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood that killed 13 and wounded dozens, is about to get his best chance yet to explain his actions – though whether he will seize the opportunity remains to be seen.
With military prosecutors set to rest their case as soon as Tuesday, the Army psychiatrist, who is acting as his own attorney, will be allowed to put on a defense.
But Hasan has kept mostly silent for two weeks as military prosecutors called more than 80 witnesses to testify about the attack on the Texas Army post, making whether he will take the witness stand in his own defense a key question for the remaining proceedings.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, began the trial by telling jurors that he was the gunman, and he has leaked documents during the trial seeking to justify the shootings as a defense of this faith.
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John Galligan, Hasan’s former criminal lawyer who continues to assist Hasan, does not see an upside in testifying.
“Like anybody, he’ll be cross examined,” Galligan said. “He’s already admitted he’s the shooter. I would expect prosecution would take him through all the evidence trying to show evidence of premeditation.”
Hasan has remained largely muted throughout the trial, cross-examining just three witnesses and raising few objections. His court-ordered, standby attorneys believe Hasan, 42, is deliberately trying to get a death sentence.
Eugene Fidell, a former judge advocate who teaches military law at Yale Law School, said he doesn’t believe Hasan will spend much time on a defense before handing the case to the jury.
Fidell, who has been following the case, said Hasan’s behavior suggests he has no interest in actually presenting a case. Hasan signaled before the trial began that he would call just two witnesses, but there were indications Monday that he now might call only one person to testify.
Fidell believes Hasan is waiting to speak until the sentencing phase.
“His moment of the limelight is going to be on sentencing, and then he’ll be able to give a speech,” Fidell said. “That’s going to be his opportunity.”
But if Monday is any indication, Hasan might be ready to talk.
In a rare move, Hasan began this week by challenging the government’s definition of “jihad” and – for the first time since the day that testimony began – questioned a witness.
Military prosecutors have said they will show that Hasan felt he had a “jihad duty,” referring to a Muslim term for a religious war or struggle.
Hasan briefly cross-examined Staff Sgt. Juan Alvarado, who saw a gunfight between Hasan and Kimberly Munley, one of the Fort Hood police officers who responded to the shootings. Alvarado said Hasan tried to shoot Munley after she had been shot and disarmed.
“Are you saying – and I don’t want to put words in your mouth – are you saying that after it was clear that she was disarmed, I continued to fire at her?” Hasan asked.
Alvarado said that was correct.
Earlier Monday, Hasan asked that the definition of “jihad” be adjusted. Prosecutors didn’t object, and jurors were told: “under Islam, the central doctrine that calls on believers to combat enemies of the religious belief.”
Also Monday the judge again urged Hasan to trained attorneys to take over, but he again declined.
Retired Sgt. Howard Ray, who was in the building next door when the shooting began inside a medical center, said he wasn’t particularly interested in hearing Hasan’s defense.
Ray is among dozens of survivors and relatives of the dead soldiers who are suing the government over the shooting.
“I really don’t care to see what he has to say. Basically he’s going to say, `I did it for Allah,’ and let his people the pom-poms out and cheer him on for saying that,” said Ray, who said he was awarded a commendation for bravery for steering soldiers and civilians from danger during the rampage. “I don’t care what he has to say because it’s already been said.”