Fort Hood shooting suspect will face death penalty

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — For the victims’ families and those wounded in the Fort Hood shooting rampage, news that the suspect will face a military trial and the death penalty came as no surprise.

Many have cried and prayed together since a gunman opened fire on the Texas Army post that sunny day in November 2009, killing 13 people and injuring more than two dozen others. Some of them celebrated Wednesday’s announcement that Maj. Nidal Hasan would face a death sentence if convicted, though others were more solemn. Yet all said it was another step in their healing process.

“I’m glad I’m not the one deciding what happens to Hasan,” said Leila Hunt Willingham, whose brother, Spc. Jason Dean “J.D.” Hunt was killed while protecting civilian nurses during the shootings.

“People think the default (emotion) is always anger and revenge,” she said. “No one seems to understand that the outcome of this will not bring any more peace or closure than what I can get on my own. No matter what happens to Hasan, my brother is still dead.”

Fort Hood’s commanding general, Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell, said Wednesday that Hasan would be tried in a military court and, if convicted, possibly be sentenced to death. The decision echoed the recommendations of two Army colonels who previously reviewed the case against the Army psychiatrist, who is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.

“I believe the Army as an institution has long been planning to go this route,” Hasan’s lead attorney, John Galligan, said from his office near Fort Hood, about 125 miles south of Fort Worth.

Many relatives and friends of those who survived the attack applauded the decision. Staff Sgt. Jeannette Juroff, who was working in a nearby building that day and helped wounded soldiers, said the rampage deeply affected those at Fort Hood, a sprawling compound where tens of thousands of soldiers are stationed.

“If he’s convicted and sentenced to death, maybe the (victims’) families can get closure because he won’t be here anymore and we’ll no longer have to talk about him,” Juroff said.

Keely Cahill Vanacker, whose father Michael Grant Cahill — the lone civilian killed that day — tried to stop the gunman with a chair, said she doesn’t think about Hasan.

“This may be unusual and certainly not everyone’s opinion, but worrying about what happens to the man who killed my father — I don’t spend time thinking about it,” Vanacker said, adding that she has “full faith in the prosecution team. There will be a fair trial and justice will be done.”

A military judge has not been named to oversee the military trial, and it was not immediately clear when Hasan would be arraigned. Under military law, he must plead not guilty because it is a death penalty case.

Galligan, Hasan’s lawyer, had urged Fort Hood’s commander at a meeting in May not to seek the death penalty, saying such cases were more costly, time consuming and restrictive. In cases where death is not a punishment option for military jurors, soldiers convicted of capital murder are automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Galligan has declined to say whether he is considering an insanity defense for his client. He also has refused to disclose results of a military mental health panel’s evaluation of Hasan. The three-member panel was asked to decide whether Hasan is competent to stand trial, if he had a severe mental illness that day and, if so, whether that prevented him from knowing at the time that his alleged actions were wrong.

Hasan, 40, was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the rampage. He remains in the Bell County jail, which houses defendants for nearby Fort Hood.

Hasan has attended several brief court hearings and an evidentiary hearing last fall that lasted about two weeks. He sometimes took notes during that hearing and showed no reaction as 56 witnesses testified, including more than two dozen soldiers who survived gunshot wounds.

Witnesses testified that a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform shouted “Allahu Akbar!” — which is Arabic for “God is great!” — and started shooting in a small but crowded medical building where deploying soldiers are vaccinated and undergo other tests. The gunman fired rapidly, pausing only to reload, even shooting some people as they hid under tables or fled the building, witnesses said.

The gunman fatally shot two people who tried to stop him by throwing chairs, and killed three soldiers who were protecting civilian nurses, according to testimony.

Most of the witnesses identified the gunman as Hasan, an American-born Muslim who was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan the following month. Before the attack, Hasan bought a laser-equipped semiautomatic handgun and repeatedly visited a firing range, where he honed his skills by shooting at the heads on silhouette targets, witnesses testified during the hearing.

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