Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s former attorney has insisted that the Army psychiatrist does not have a death wish, as panel members began deliberations Wednesday over whether he should be executed for carrying out the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Tex.
John P. Galligan, a civilian lawyer who regularly visits Hasan in jail, said in a phone interview that his former client had taken a “realistic” view of proceedings in declining to mount a defense at what Galligan described as “almost a ludicrous show trial.”
After prosecutors delivered a closing statement Wednesday morning, Hasan, who has called no witnesses and has not testified, declined a final chance to make a statement.
A panel of senior military officers will decide his sentence after finding him guilty of all 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 of attempted premeditated murder. If the vote on whether to hand down a death sentence is not unanimous, Hasan will be imprisoned for life without parole.
Speaking by telephone Wednesday night, Galligan, who continues to give legal assistance to Hasan, said: “He doesn’t have a death wish. I fully understand why he has maintained the position that he wants to represent himself in light of the comments that were made by some of his defense team.”
The lawyer, who has been meeting with Hasan almost daily for several months, denounced the proceedings as “almost a ludicrous show trial to secure a death penalty, even though they know it’s unlikely that it would be ever actually implemented.”
He continued: “In the military [justice system], the appeals in this case are going to go on for decades. In all honesty, he stands a far more likely chance of dying from medical reasons than dying because he’s been sentenced to death.”
Hasan is paralyzed and has to use a wheelchair after being shot by military police during the November 2009 attack.
Galligan said an earlier decision by military judge Col. Tara Osborn to prevent his ex-client from arguing that he had carried out the mass shooting to save the lives of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan had denied the psychiatrist the opportunity to defend himself.
Hasan has faced frequent accusations that he is deliberately seeking the death penalty during his three-week court-martial at Fort Hood.
The psychiatrist is representing himself after twice dismissing his legal team, and he made only a brief opening statement, in which he said, “I am the shooter.” He had attempted to plead guilty but was prohibited from doing so under military rules because prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
On the second day of the trial, his standby attorneys asked to have their role limited because they believed it was “clear his goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is working toward a death penalty.”
Hasan described their comments as “a twist of the facts,” and the request was dismissed.
During this week’s sentencing phase, his standby attorneys asked to be allowed to enter mitigating evidence on the psychiatrist’s behalf. This included submissions about the Army major’s good behavior in custody before trial and his offer to plead guilty.
As one of the standby attorneys asked to argue the motion, Hasan repeatedly objected and said he had “overzealous defense counsel.” Osborn refused the request.
Delivering his closing argument Wednesday morning, Col. Mike Mulligan told the panel: “He dealt death to soldiers. He dealt no compassion. He dealt no understanding. He dealt no exceptions. He only dealt death.
“Because of what he did, because of who he did it to and because of where he did it, the just and appropriate sentence in this is death.”
During two days of sentencing evidence, surviving victims and family members described, in often emotional testimony, how the incident had changed their lives.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler, who was shot four times, told the court, “I was expected to either die or remain in a vegetative state.”
Zeigler’s left side remains partially paralyzed, and he said that his personality has changed and that he is “a lot angrier, a lot darker than I used to be.”
The father of a pregnant 21-year-old private, Francheska Velez, who was fatally shot as she pleaded for the life of her baby, testified in Spanish that Hasan had also “killed me slowly.”
Under the military justice system, the case must be signed off on by a military official known as the convening authority. It will then be automatically referred to two appeals courts. The president, as commander in chief, must give final approval for a death sentence to be carried out.
No active-duty soldier has been executed since 1961, although several remain on military death row.