FORT HOOD (AP) — The Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at Fort Hood decided not to call witnesses or testify Tuesday during his trial’s penalty phase, which is his last chance to plead for his life before the jury begins deliberating whether to sentence him to death.
Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is acting as his own attorney, told the judge he was resting his case without submitting evidence, calling witnesses or testifying in his own defense. The judge then dismissed jurors, who convicted Hasan last week for the November 2009 shooting rampage that also wounded more than 30 people at the Texas military base.
But shortly after the jury left the courtroom, the judge asked Hasan more than two dozen questions in rapid fire, affirming that he knew what he was doing. His answers were succinct and just as rapid.
“It is my personal decision,” he said. “It is free and voluntary.”
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, then read him several court opinions to back up her decision not to introduce evidence in Hasan’s favor on her own.
“In other words, Maj. Hasan, you are the captain of your own ship,” Osborn said.
She said closing arguments would begin Wednesday. Whether Hasan will address jurors then remains unclear.
Hasan rested his case shortly after more than a dozen widows, mothers, fathers, children and other relatives of those killed testified about their lives since the attack. Prosecutors hope the emotion testimony helps convince jurors to hand down a rare military death sentence.
Hasan has put up nearly no defense since the trial began three weeks ago. He also called no witnesses and didn’t testify in his own defense before he was convicted, and he questioned only three of prosecutors’ nearly 90 witnesses. Although he gave a brief opening statement, during which he acknowledged that the evidence would show he was the shooter, he gave no closing argument.
But through media leaks and statements to the judge, the American-born Muslim appeared to justify the attack as a way to protect Islamic leaders from U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hasan released a report to the media during the trial that showed he told military mental health workers after the attack that he believed he could still be a martyr if convicted and executed by the government.
Prosecutors want Hasan to join just five other U.S. service members currently on military death row. The jury of 13 military officers must be unanimous for such a death sentence, and prosecutors must prove an aggravating factor and present evidence to show the severity of Hasan’s crimes.
No American soldier has been executed since 1961. Many military death row inmates have had their sentences overturned on appeal, which are automatic when jurors vote for the death penalty. The president also must eventually approve a military death sentence.