Maj. Nidal Hasan was convicted last Friday of premeditated murder in the 2009 shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. The attack killed 13 people and injured more than 30. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, said his goal was to help Muslim insurgents overseas.
The conviction made Hasan eligible for the death penalty, and prosecutors pushed for it. On Wednesday, a military jury sentenced him to death. He could be the first American soldier to be executed since 1961. But, based on the beliefs of an attorney during the case, that sentence could give Hasan just what he wants.
During the trial, Hasan chose to represent himself, but he had three standby military lawyers on hand for advice if he requested it. One of those defense attorneys worried earlier this month that Hasan was “working in concert with the prosecution in achieving a death sentence.” That attorney, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, told the judge in the case that it is “clear [Hasan’s] goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is working towards a death penalty.”
Hasan took issue with the attorney’s interpretation of his defense, saying the attorney “made an assertion that is inaccurate.”
In his self-defense, Hassan did not try, even a little, to present himself as innocent. In his opening statement, he said, “Evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter, and the dead bodies will show the war is an ugly thing.” The government tried to make the case that Hasan “came to believe he possessed a jihad duty to kill as many soldiers as possible.”
Whether the death penalty is Hasan’s goal likely didn’t matter in the sentencing, because that is the penalty the prosecution was looking for. But it raises real questions about how serious a punishment can be if it is what the criminal is looking for. In court, the government argued that the death penalty is the only way to give the military and families of Hasan’s victims justice and peace of mind. But if Hasan is looking to become a martyr for his cause, it’s hard to see how giving him that would help victims and their families.
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