FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Army Maj. Nidal Hasan is sending only a single piece of evidence to the jury room when deliberations likely start Thursday about whether he is guilty of the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood: an evaluation from his boss that called him a good soldier.
Then there’s the trove military prosecutors are handing over.
Pill bottles that rattle with bullets removed form soldiers. Photos of Hasan prowling the outside of a Fort Hood medical building with a gun during the time of the shooting. Jurors can even handle that gun, an FN 5.7 semi-automatic pistol, which Hasan volunteered belonged to him during the 12-day trial.
In all, the U.S government produced more than 700 pieces of evidence against Hasan, who hasn’t put up a fight against charges that he killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in the deadliest mass shooting ever on a U.S. military base.
Yet on the eve of when the jury is expected to start deliberations, Hasan on Wednesday perked up about what he says all that evidence doesn’t show — that the attack he admits to carrying out was somehow impulsive.
“I would like to agree with the prosecution that it wasn’t done under the heat of sudden passion,” Hasan said. “There was adequate provocation — that these were deploying soldiers that were going to engage in an illegal war.”
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, has been unapologetic about saying the rampage was necessary to protect Muslim insurgents abroad from American soldiers preparing for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His comments Wednesday were not made in front of jurors, but instead came during a hearing over whether they should be able to consider a conviction of voluntary manslaughter. Hasan is currently charged with premeditated murder and could face the death sentence if convicted.
Both Hasan and prosecutors balked at making a conviction on the lesser charge an option.
“There’s not a shred of evidence to suggest the accused was acting under a heat of passion as he was committing the single largest mass murder on a U.S. military installation ever,” said Col. Steve Henricks, one of the military’s prosecutors.
What evidence the military has produced will be given to 13 high-ranking military officers during deliberations, which are expected to start Thursday following closing arguments.
“Passion seems to equate to a motive,” Henricks told the trial judge Wednesday. “And I think we’ve presented several pieces of evidence that motive has been building for some time.”
Hasan’s long-awaited trial — it was supposed to begin this week a year ago, before Hasan’s refusal to shave his beard over religious reasons set off more delays — is coming to an end far sooner than expected. The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, had braced jurors to serve at least a month.
But the unusual decision by Hasan, who is acting as his own attorney, to present no resistance to the government’s case has drastically expedited the pace.
On Wednesday, he forfeited his turn in the trial to call even a single witnesses or present new evidence. He told Osborn he knew he was passing up the chance to take the witness stand himself, choosing instead to hurry the trial along.
“The defense rests,” said Hasan, when Osborn told him to begin his case.
Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, only submitted one item into evidence during the trial: his last officer evaluation report from his supervisor at Fort Hood, Dr. Ben Phillips, who selected “Outstanding Officer, Must Promote” from three performance-rating options. The evaluation is dated Nov. 2, 2009 — three days before the attack.
Phillips was one of nearly 90 government witnesses to testify, but one of only three who Hasan cross-examined. When Hasan asked him about the favorable review, Phillips suggested that was his default choice for all soldiers “unless I basically wanted to end their career.”
The exchange between Hasan and Phillips happened on the trial’s first day. But since then, Hasan has shifted into a passive and muted presence in court, suggesting that he may not even consider that evidence relevant anymore.
Evidence submitted by prosecutors include Hasan’s laptop hard drive, which revealed Internet searches for “jihad” and an article about Taliban leaders urging attacks on Americans. There are also dozens of photo diagrams of the medical center where the shooting unfolded, each marked up by soldiers who drew where they were standing — and where they hid — where when the gunfire began.
Jurors are not required to revisit the evidence before deciding whether Hasan is guilty of capital charges that could put him on the military’s death row, said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at the South Texas College of Law. Corn is among a few experts who have closely followed the case and taught one of the government’s prosecutors, Col. Mike Mulligan, at the graduate level.
Corn said that even though Hasan’s guilt may seem clear-cut, the jury may recognize the gravity of the trial and use due diligence.
On the other hand, Corn said, they might start deliberations and quickly find they’re in agreement.
“There may be a mood that we want to send a message that this has been proven so overwhelmingly, that they don’t need any more time,” Corn said. “They could come out in an hour.”
Jurors must unanimously convict Hasan of multiple killings, and then unanimously vote to sentence him to death, for Hasan to be sent to death row.
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