Fort Hood shooter rests defense case without calling witnesses

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 21, 2013 10:17 AM
Fort Hood shooter rests defense case without calling witnesses

By Karen Brooks and Jana J. Pruet

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - The U.S. Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 fellow soldiers and wounding 31 others in a rampage at Foot Hood, Texas, in 2009 rested his defense case in his court-martial on Wednesday without calling any witnesses to testify.

Major Nidal Hasan, acting as his own defense attorney, has remained largely passive in court since telling the jury in opening arguments, "The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter."

Colonel Tara Osborn, a military judge, asked Hasan if anyone had forced him into his decision to dispense with witnesses and rest his case. "No, ma'am," he replied.

On Tuesday, military prosecutors rested their case in the capital murder court-martial of Hasan, an American-born Muslim who said he switched sides in what he considered a U.S. war against Islam.

Hasan spared victims who testified against him from cross-examination and so far has avoided using his court-martial as a platform for his religious beliefs, though he will be given another chance in closing arguments set for Thursday.

Shot by police during the incident, the 42-year-old is paralyzed from the waist down and attends court in a wheelchair.

The shooting rampage on November 5, 2009, came at a time of heightened tensions over the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which strained relations between the United States and countries with predominantly Muslim populations.

Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, praised Hasan as a hero and "a man of conscience." U.S. intelligence officials say Hasan had sent emails to Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. The judge blocked those emails from being submitted as evidence in the trial.

Prosecutors opted against bringing terrorism charges against Hasan, who could face the death penalty if all 13 officers on the jury find him guilty of premeditated murder.

Hasan faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of premeditated attempted murder for the 31 people injured plus one he shot at and missed.

The judge delayed ruling on whether to give the jury the option of considering lesser homicide offenses such as unpremeditated murder or voluntary manslaughter.

When prosecutors argued, with the jury absent, against the option of manslaughter, Hasan interjected. But rather than rebut the prosecution's point, he agreed.

"I would like to agree that it wasn't done under the heat of passion. There was adequate provocation because these were soldiers that were deploying in an illegal war. That was the provocation," Hasan said.

Prosecutors called 89 witnesses in two weeks of testimony, with many describing in horrific detail the bloodbath in and around a medical building at Fort Hood.

Hasan told mental health evaluators he wanted to become a martyr, court documents show. Lawyers assisting him say he is seeking the death penalty, but he has disputed that claim.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta, John Wallace and Matthew Lewis)