FORT HOOD, TEXAS — The Army psychiatrist who fatally shot 13 people at Fort Hood decided not to present any evidence during his trial’s penalty phase on Tuesday even though jurors are deciding whether to sentence him to death.
Maj. Nidal Hasan rested his case without calling witnesses or testifying to counter the testimony from victims’ relatives, who talked of eerily quiet homes, lost futures, alcoholism and the unmatched fear of hearing a knock on their front door.
Prosecutors hope the testimony helps convince jurors to hand down a rare military death sentence against Hasan, who was convicted last week for the 2009 attack that also wounded more than 30 people at the Texas military base.
The judge dismissed jurors after Hasan declined to put up a defense. But she then asked Hasan more than two dozen questions in rapid fire, affirming that he knew what he was doing. His answers were just as rapid. “It is my personal decision,” he said. “It is free and voluntary.”
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, then read aloud 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.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday, but whether jurors will hear from Hasan remains unclear. He has been acting as his own attorney but has put up nearly no defense since his trial began three weeks ago.
The trial’s penalty phase, however, is Hasan’s last chance to tell jurors what he’s spent the last four years telling the military, judges and journalists: that he believes the killing of unarmed American soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan was necessary to protect Muslim insurgents. He was barred ahead of trial of making such a defense.
Hasan rested his case shortly after more than a dozen widows, mothers, fathers, children and other relatives of those killed, along with soldiers wounded during the shooting rampage, testified.
Sheryll Pearson sobbed when shown a photo of her son, Pfc. Michael Pearson, hugging her during his graduation. “We always wanted to see who he was going to become. Now that was taken away from us,” she said.
Teena Nemelka lost the youngest of her four children, Pfc. Aaron Nemelka, whom she called, “my baby.” She talked about her frantic searches for information in the moments after learning about the shooting and about her fear of hearing a knock at the front door of her home.
“You just freeze,” she said. “You don’t want to open that door.”