Even with death sentence, Fort Hood shooter would face long wait for martyrdom

Even if Army Maj. Nidal Hasan gets the death penalty -- which many believe he wants -- for the 2009 Fort Hood shooting massacre, he could have a decades-long wait to realize his martyrdom.

The military rarely hands down the death penalty, and it is even rarer for it to be carried out. The last service member to be executed was Army Pvt. John A. Bennett, who was hanged for rape and attempted murder in 1961. There are currently just five service members on the military's death row, one of whom has been awaiting his execution -- and fighting it -- for 25 years.

Hasan's death could come sooner if the self-professed "Soldier of Allah," who killed 13 and injured 30 in his Nov. 5, 2009, rampage, truly wants to die for his twisted cause and elects to forgo appeals. But even so, he could languish for years on the military's death row, in Fort Leavenworth.

“In general, the expectation of it happening soon is unlikely,” Col. Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo Military Commissions and law professor at Howard University, told FoxNews.com.


It wasn't always so easy for convicted service members to cheat death. Some 130 were executed in the last century, nearly all between 1900 and 1950. But if Hasan is indeed sentenced to death, he will find himself in exclusive company. Here are the men currently on the military’s death row, awaiting verdicts on their appeals:

  • Ronald Gray, a former Army specialist who was sentenced in 1988 after being charged with abducting, raping, sodomizing and murdering an 18-year-old female soldier and a 23-year-old civilian woman, as well as attempting to rape and murder another fellow soldier.
  • Dwight Loving, a former Army private who, like Hasan, was stationed at Fort Hood when he was sentenced to death in 1989 for the murders of two taxi drivers. He is currently awaiting an appeal despite giving a full confession for the killings on videotape.
  • Former Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar, a Muslim convert who got the death penalty after killing fellow soldiers in Kuwait in 2005. Akbar's attack, carried out with a gun and a grenade at Camp Christopher, left an Army captain and major dead.
  • Timothy Hennis, an Army master sergeant, was originally convicted in 1986 in a North Carolina civilian court for the murder of three people. His conviction was later overturned and he was acquitted at retrial in 1989. Subsequently, DNA evidence showed that he was indeed guilty, but double jeopardy prevented him from being retried in a state criminal court. But when Hennis, who had left the service, was recalled to active duty years later, the military -- unbound by double jeopardy -- tried him for a third time. He was convicted and sentenced to death in April 2010.
  • Former Air Force senior airman Andrew Witt’s death sentence was recently overturned on the grounds of ineffectiveness of counsel, but he remains on death row while the military considers an appeal. He was originally convicted in 2005 for allegedly stabbing another senior airman and his wife to death at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.

If Hasan draws a death sentence, he may beat all five to a meeting with his maker.

“It will be interesting to see what would happen," said Davis. "If he waives his right to appeal, it could speed up the process, but even then an execution would likely be a few years away,” he added.

But Davis said it is no given that a jury will mete out the death penalty, and if it does, it won't be simply because that is what Hasan may want..

“The jury won’t be instructed to not give him the death penalty because he wants it,” said Davis, who said he would rather see Hasan spend life in prison.

“Personally, I don’t see the point in giving them what they want," he said. "I think obscurity is a more fitting of a punishment.”