Before execution date is set, Fort Hood shooter faces years of appeals
In this courtroom sketch, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is shown as the guilty verdict is read at his court martial, in Fort Hood, Texas, Aug. 23, 2013. (AP / Brigitte Woosley)
Published Thursday, August 29, 2013 12:55PM EDT
FORT HOOD, Texas -- If the U.S. Army psychiatrist convicted in a deadly attack on a military base really welcomes the death sentence he received Wednesday, the rules of military justice won't let him go down without a fight -- whether he wants one or not.
Nidal Hasan was sentenced Wednesday to die for the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30. But before an execution date is set, he faces years, if not decades, of appeals. And this time, he won't be allowed to represent himself.
"If he really wants the death penalty, the appeals process won't let it happen for a very long time," said Joseph Gutheinz, an attorney licensed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. "The military is going to want to do everything at its own pace. They're not going to want to let the system kill him, even if that's what he wants."
The U.S.-born Muslim offered almost defence in his trial, and the attorneys appointed by the court to help him accused him of seeking a death sentence.
Hasan opened fire at a Fort Hood medical centre packed with soldiers heading to or recently returned from overseas combat deployments. He also was set to soon go to Afghanistan to counsel soldiers there.
He has said he carried out the attack to protect Muslim insurgents on foreign soil.
Hasan has suggested in writings that he would "still be a martyr" if he received death.
That process is anything but fast. The military hasn't executed an active-duty U.S. soldier since 1961.
Now that Hasan's been sentenced to death, a written record of the trial will be produced and Fort Hood's commanding general will have the option of granting clemency. Assuming none is granted, the case record is then scrutinized by the appeals courts for the Army and armed forces.
If Hasan's case and death sentence are eventually affirmed, he could ask the U.S. Supreme Court for a review or file motions in federal civilian courts. The president, as the military commander in chief, also must sign off on a death sentence.
Military appeals courts have overturned 11 of the 16 death sentences of the last three decades.
There's no way to estimate how long the appeals process could take for Hasan.
As the appeals proceed, Hasan is going to military death row.
Once his appeals begin, Hasan will be assigned military counsel. He could also choose to retain civilian lawyers.
John Galligan, a retired Army colonel who was Hasan's former lead civilian counsel, said he doesn't believe he is seeking execution. He has met with Hasan frequently during the trial and said several civilian attorneys -- including anti-death penalty activists -- have offered to take on his appeal.
"This will invariably be an appeal that will take decades," Galligan said, "and, Maj. Hasan, I don't know if he'll ever survive it." He added: "If anything's going to kill Hasan in the short term ... it will probably be natural causes due to his medical conditions."
Hasan was shot in the back during the rampage, paralyzing him from the waist down.
Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti contributed to this report from Houston.