Prosecution rests in Ft. Hood court-martial of Nidal Malik Hasan
FT. HOOD, Texas -- After years of delays and just two weeks of testimony, military prosecutors rested their case Tuesday in the court-martial of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.
Hasan, 42, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in connection with the shooting at this central Texas Army base on Nov. 5, 2009. If convicted, the Army psychiatrist could face the death penalty.
Prosecutors summoned nearly 90 witnesses and submitted hundreds of pieces of evidence to build their case against Hasan, arguing that the American-born Muslim was motivated by radical militant beliefs to plan his attack on fellow soldiers after he had been ordered to deploy to Afghanistan.
The final few witnesses provided dramatic testimony Tuesday, including a civilian who photographed Hasan during the shooting, a soldier who saw him trade gunfire with police, and doctors who said Hasan told them he wanted to avoid deploying.
Years before the shooting, Hasan had applied for a two-year fellowship to avoid deploying, a military psychiatrist who worked with him testified. Weeks before the shooting, Hasan talked to another doctor at Ft. Hood about what would happen if the Army ordered him to deploy.
“The last thing he said to me was ‘They will pay,’” Dr. Tonya Kozminski testified.
Steven Bennett testified that on the day of the shooting he had been photographing a graduation ceremony in a nearby building when he heard gunfire and emerged to see a man shooting.
Bennett said he considered fleeing, but, “I thought I’d better get some photographs, in case they need them later.”
He noticed a uniformed figure who seemed unnaturally calm, walking with his arms tucked and checking doors despite the chaos surrounding him. Bennett approached and spoke with the man, whom he identified in court as Hasan.
“He showed me the weapon, told me it was a paintball gun and that he was on a training exercise,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the photographs he took, which prosecutors displayed for the jury, showed Hasan walking through the chaotic scene, checking the door of a building, and later on the ground, wounded, as a police officer checked his vital signs.
Prosecutors replayed a dashboard camera video taken from the car of one of the responding Ft. Hood police officers, and Army Capt. Mark Douglass testified that it showed him and other soldiers shouting warnings as civilian police Sgt. Kimberly Munley and Senior Sgt. Mark Todd chased Hasan. Douglass said he saw Hasan first shoot Munley, then Todd shoot and wound Hasan.
Hasan agreed to allow prosecutors to read Todd’s written testimony to the jury Tuesday rather than call him to the stand. Todd, who could not testify in person for medical reasons, talked about seeing the shooter, who other witnesses have said was armed with a gun equipped with a laser sight.
“I remember distinctly seeing the laser sight pointed at me,” Todd said. “I hear a shot, see a flash and take cover.”
Todd said he repeatedly warned the gunman to drop his weapon and when he refused, returned fire until the shooter slumped against a telephone pole and, “I knew I had shot him.”
The government rested their case at 12:30 p.m. and the judge recessed the court until Wednesday.
It was not clear whether Hasan, who has been representing himself at trial, planned to call witnesses or to testify Wednesday.
Hasan has no legal training, and his former military attorneys, whom the judge has ordered to stay on as standby legal advisors, have complained that he doesn’t take their advice because he wants a death sentence. Hasan rarely objected or questioned witnesses, speeding up a trial the judge had expected to last at least a month.
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, has cautioned Hasan throughout the proceedings that by acting as his own attorney, he is placing himself at a disadvantage. She repeated those warnings before the jury was summoned Tuesday.
“If you do testify, you have to ask yourself questions and you have to give evidence according to the uniform rules for court-martial. Do you understand?” Osborn said.
Hasan said he understood.
“I just wanted to remind you of that. And do you still wish to proceed pro se?” the judge asked.
“I do,” Hasan said.
Hasan had initially listed two witnesses: Tim Jon Semmerling, a mitigation expert, and Lewis Rambo, an expert on religious conversion, according to a Ft. Hood spokesman. Last week, Hasan removed Semmerling from his witness list after the judge made it clear that including him would mean sharing their previous communications with prosecutors. On Tuesday, Hasan told the judge he had also removed Rambo from his witness list.
But Osborn, who military legal experts said has taken pains to preserve the trial record and avoid potential appeals, required both experts to remain available for testimony, should Hasan change his mind again. Prosecutors said Rambo, who is based on the West Coast, would be flown in late Tuesday.
“I’m going to give you the opportunity to talk to him face to face,” Osborn told Hasan, who balked.
“I object,” Hasan said, sounding frustrated, “I’m not going to use him and so to take up his time seems a waste.”
Osborn insisted, saying time and cost were not an issue.
“Just because you’ve changed your witness list over time doesn’t mean you can’t change it again,” she told Hasan, emphasizing that if he changed his mind and wanted to revert to a previous witness list, “the court will get any of those witnesses here.”
If Hasan decides to forgo calling witnesses or testifying, the case could go to the jury Wednesday.
The jury of 13 officers, all Hasan’s rank or higher, would then deliberate and vote on a verdict by secret ballot. Under military law, there are no hung juries. The panel, which includes nine colonels, three lieutenant colonels and a major, needs a two-thirds majority to convict. The same jury would also handle sentencing, with a unanimous vote required for a death sentence.
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