Major Nidal Hasan Rests Case Without Providing Any Defense
Major Nidal Hasan, currently on trial for the murder and wounding of dozens of American soldiers at Fort Hood, has declined to put on any defense case at all:
KILLEEN, Tex. — Months after deciding to act as his own lawyer, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan declined to present a defense in his military trial on Wednesday, passing up an opportunity to counter hundreds of witnesses and pieces of evidence prosecutors have used to persuade a jury to find him guilty of murdering and wounding dozens of unarmed soldiers in 2009
As relatives of some of his victims looked on, the judge overseeing his court-martial asked him to proceed Wednesday morning, after Army prosecutors rested their case the day before.
“The defense rests,” Major Hasan told the judge inside the packed Fort Hood courtroom.
The judge dismissed the jury, and later asked Major Hasan if he understood that he had a right to testify if chose to. He said he did. Had he taken the stand and testified, Army prosecutors would have been allowed to cross-examine him. During the sentencing phase, however, Major Hasan could give an unsworn statement, and he would not be subject to cross-examination
Major Hasan, 42, has been charged with 45 counts of murder and attempted murder in a shooting rampage inside a medical deployment center at the Fort Hood base here on Nov. 5, 2009. He admitted to the jury in his opening statement at the start of the trial on Aug. 6 that he was the gunman. According to prosecutors and previous statements Major Hasan has made both in and out of court, he was motivated by two desires – to avoid deployment to Afghanistan and to kill as many soldiers as he could as part of a jihad to protect Muslims from American military aggression.
Major Hasan is the first defendant in a military capital-punishment case to represent himself in modern times. He has made few objections, asked few questions of those testifying and has reached agreements with the prosecution on various issues by signing stipulations. His only defense exhibit admitted into evidence was a portion of an officer evaluation report that showed that he had earned promotion.
At one point, Major Hasan’s Army defense team had prepared to call 59 witnesses. But after Major Hasan released those lawyers and started representing himself, he reduced that list to two witnesses, a defense mitigation specialist and a religious conversion expert. Last week, he told the judge he no longer wished to call the mitigation specialist and on Tuesday, he said he did not want the other expert to testify. The judge, Col. Tara A. Osborn, ordered prosecutors to bring them to Fort Hood anyway and ensure that they were available, her attempt to make sure their ability to testify does not become an issue should Major Hasan appeal.
The jury has not heard Major Hasan discuss the previous theory he put forward as a defense – his claim that he committed the shootings to protect Taliban leaders from American soldiers deploying to Afghanistan. The judge ruled that his defense had no legal merit, and forbade him from presenting evidence of it to the jury.
“I think Hasan realized early on that once his distorted theory of defense was rejected, he had nothing to present or offer,” said Geoffrey S. Corn, a former Army prosecutor who is a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. “I also think that he may be trying to manifest his disdain for both the Army and the military justice system, not in a belligerent manner, but by functionally boycotting the process.”
On Wednesday, the judge told the jury to return on Thursday, when it will hear closing arguments and be given instructions on the charges before deliberation. The central question has not been whether the jury will find him guilty but whether it will unanimously vote for the death penalty. If one member of the 13-member jury disagrees on a death sentence, then Major Hasan will receive a sentence of life in prison.
Failing to present any defense case at all in a capital murder case is highly unusual, and it would be even more unusual should Hasan also decline to put any evidence on during the sentencing phase. At this point, it seems beyond question that he will be convicted and that he’s likely to be sentenced to death, but the events surrounding this trial are likely to be the subject of appeals for years to come, which is likely why the Judge has taken pains to ensure that Hasan’s rights were protected at every stage of the case.