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Fort Hood shooting jury recommends death penalty for Nidal Hasan

By Bill Mears, CNN
updated 7:02 AM EDT, Thu August 29, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Staff sergeant who was shot seven times wants sentence carried out as soon as possible
  • 13-member panel deliberates for almost two hours before recommending death
  • The convening authority -- a general -- has the option of reducing the sentence
  • He has admitted being the gunman who left 13 dead, 32 wounded in 2009 massacre

Fort Hood, Texas (CNN) -- A military jury on Wednesday recommended the death penalty for convicted Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan, for the 2009 massacre on post that left 13 people dead and 32 others wounded.

The 13-member panel spent less than two hours deliberating privately, and the president -- or forewoman-- announced the finding in open court with a clear voice, that Hasan "be put to death."

The convicted killer said nothing as the decision was announced, and had appeared emotionless earlier in the morning when dramatic closing arguments in the sentencing phase were held without his participation.

Victim 'happy' with Hasan's sentence

Hasan serves as his own attorney and his refusal to mount a vigorous defense, or to offer any mitigating evidence to blunt a capital sentence, may have made the panel's unanimous decision less complicated or agonizing.

Witness: Hasan death penalty 'wonderful'

The judge quickly accepted the verdict; the matter now goes to the "convening authority" -- an Army general who will review the four-week court-martial proceedings and make the binding decision whether to accept the guilty verdict and capital sentence.

It is a process that could take a few more months, and only then will the verdicts become official.

The convening authority has the option of reducing the sentence to life in prison without parole. The defendant will then have the right to appeal through the military justice system.

Fort Hood shooting timeline

The Army psychiatrist will at some point be transferred to military death row in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to join five other condemned prisoners. The president of the United States would sign any death warrant, and the execution would take place at a federal correctional facility in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The American-born man of Palestinian descent turned and looked at the panel president as she read the sentence, then moved to face the judge. There was no reaction from him.

There were also no outbursts from family members gathered in the courtroom. Some held hands, and brief embraces and smiles followed the announcement.

Family of two of the victims addressed reporters a few hundred yards from the courthouse.

"Nidal Hasan is a coward and an unrepentant murderer," said Gale Hunt, mother of Jason "JD" Hunt. She urged the public now to focus on the wounded and the victim families, including the memory of her son. "He was a very kind and thoughtful person," she said.

"The best thing for that man is to be forgotten," said Kerry Cahill, daughter of Michael Cahill, 62, the only civilian killed in the attacks. Kerry said many of the family members had met over the weekend as the court-martial drew to a close, sharing their memories and emotional pain with one another. "We are a family," she said.

Army Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who survived the attack despite being shot seven times, said on CNN's "Piers Morgan Live" Wednesday night that he wants to see the sentence carried out as soon as possible.

"I definitely do not want him to just sit and wait and die of old age," said Lunsford, who testified at the trial.

Lunsford said post-traumatic stress syndrome has been the worst of his injuries, leaving him always on high alert even around his family.

"My kids cannot come up behind me and just say, 'Dad, I love you," without announcing themselves," Lunsford said. If his wife tries to console him when he has nightmares, "I will physically kick her out of bed or I will fight back."

The sentencing ends a nearly four-year legal process that strained the emotions of survivors and family members of the victims.

They spoke on the bench earlier in the week during the sentencing phase, describing their grief and loss. An Army prosecutor earlier Wednesday summarized the case, offering personal vignettes of all 13 victims killed and urging the panel to ignore Hasan's earlier statement that he was willing to die in custody as a "martyr" for his faith.

"He will never be a martyr, because he has nothing to give," Col. Michael Mulligan said in an even voice. "He is a criminal, a cold-blooded murderer. He is not giving his life; we are taking his life."

"You should not punish him for his religion, you should punish him for his crimes," he added.

Inside the courtroom, widows and mothers wiped tears from their eyes throughout the oral presentation. Hasan remained stoic as usual, looking mainly at photos of victims on his monitor screen during closing, occasionally glancing at Mulligan addressing the panel.

He stroked his beard and wiped his nose repeatedly with a tissue.

'He only dealt in death'

Outside of brief comments at the beginning of the court-martial four weeks ago, where he admitted being the lone gunman, the defendant has not put on much of a case.

That left the government alone Wednesday to summarize the incident and the impact on the survivors, families of victims, and Fort Hood community.

"Death. He was trained as doctor to save lives, but on 5 November 2009, he only dealt in death," Mulligan said. The prosecutor tied the narrative together with a unifying theme: the separate teams of two officers in Class-A uniforms who knocked on the doors of the victim's families across the country to deliver the sad news.

Mulligan also recounted graphic details of the carnage inside Station 13, Room 42003 of the medical readiness center, where the victims were preparing for their military deployments overseas.

Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, 55, was shot four times and, from her nursing training, knew she was dying from internal bleeding. "She had just a few minutes to pass on one final message: 'Tell my family I love them.' "

For the widow of Spc. Jason Hunt, the subsequent emotional pain has been tough. "Grief is a personal emotion," Mulligan said. "Hers led her to the depths of suicide and back." Jennifer Hunt told the panel Monday she is raising her three children alone.

Hasan had indicated he wanted his service record, his lack of a previous criminal record and his psychological evaluations kept under wraps. Speaking in a clear voice from his wheelchair, Hasan dismissed the ex parte actions by his "overzealous defense counsel."

After weeks of mostly silence in his defense, Hasan had little more to say this week in the capital sentencing phase of his court-martial, telling the jury panel Tuesday three short words: "The defense rests."

Fort Hood shooting family members testify

His brief remarks produced a gasp in the courtroom.

The panel of senior officers last week convicted the defendant on all counts of premeditated murder from the incident at the deployment processing center on this sprawling U.S. Army base. Hasan was wounded in the attacks and remains a paraplegic.

The defendant called no witnesses and presented no documentary evidence on why he should not die for his crimes. He also offered no explanation for his refusal to mount any defense in either the trial or sentencing phases. Judge Tara Osborn, an Army colonel, reluctantly granted his wishes, again telling Hasan, "You're the captain of your own ship."

Appeals could take years

If swift justice is the goal, history may not be on Hasan's or the government's side. The last military execution was in 1961, and only five servicemen face lethal injection. Three are African-American, two are white.

The mandatory appellate process could take years, even if Hasan voluntarily foregoes many of the procedural steps available to any defense.

Fort Hood victims feel betrayed

President George W. Bush signed a death warrant in 2008 for Ronald Gray, a former Army specialist convicted in the military system of several spree killings. His scheduled execution was stayed, and the case remains under appeal.

The military has its own legal standards and procedures when trying and appealing capital cases. The U.S. Supreme Court gets the final say, if any petition reaches that far. Of the 11 military death sentences that have completed direct appeal, nine (82%) have been reversed.

Some military law experts say multiple victims play a key role in whether service personnel are prosecuted for capital crimes. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales pleaded guilty last month to killing 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar in 2012, thereby avoiding the death penalty.

Procedures were revised significantly in 1984 after a military appeals court concluded application of the death penalty in that venue was unconstitutional. That led to even fewer capital cases moving forward.

Some Fort Hood victim family members believe justice someday will be served.

"He will pay for what he did," said Jerri Krueger, mother of Sgt. Amy Krueger, 29, gunned down as she tried to crawl away from the barrage of gunfire at the processing center.

The Hasan prosecution noted the heroism of three victims, whose despite their wounds, tried to charge the gunman. Cahill was shot six times but managed to fling a chair at Hasan before succumbing. Capt. John Gaffaney, 54, and Spc. Frederick Greene, 29, also were cited.

Greene was shot a dozen times, more than any victim. "What infuriated his murderer so much that he nearly emptied half his clip" on one soldier, Mulligan said. "He died in dynamic engagement."

Greene left behind a wife and two daughters.

Military death row: More than 50 years and no executions

Fort Hood memorial

CNN's Ed Lavandera and Jason Morris contributed to this report.

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