FORT WORTH, Texas – Attorneys for the Army psychiatrist charged in the Fort Hood shooting rampage on Thursday urged a commander to remove the death penalty as a punishment option.
Fort Hood's commanding general, Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell, will decide whether Maj. Nidal Hasan is court-martialed and also whether he faces the death penalty. The timing of that decision is unclear.
During a one-hour closed meeting Thursday, Hasan's lead attorney, John Galligan, urged Campbell not to authorize seeking the death penalty, saying such cases are more costly, time-consuming and restrictive. Prosecutors were there but did not speak, and Campbell was receptive to the defense team's presentation, Galligan said.
"I think the decision by prosecutors, with the Army behind them, to seek the death penalty has already been made, but they can't do it until Campbell authorizes it," Galligan told The Associated Press from his Fort Hood-area office, about 125 miles south of Fort Worth. "But it just takes one person to stand up and do the right thing, and in this case I think the right thing is not going forward with the death penalty. It's not necessary or required to serve the interest of justice in any criminal case."
Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the November 2009 shootings on the Texas Army post.
If Campbell decides that Hasan will be tried without the death penalty being a punishment option to military jurors, a conviction would bring life imprisonment without parole.
Two Army colonels have recommended that Hasan be court-martialed and face the death penalty. If Campbell's decision echoes those recommendations, then Hasan will no longer have the option of pleading guilty and must have a jury trial rather than opt for a judge to decide the case, which could pose problems if an impartial jury cannot be found at Fort Hood, Galligan said.
Galligan has declined to say if he has discussed a plea deal with prosecutors or if he is considering an insanity defense for Hasan, 40, who was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the rampage and remains jailed.
Galligan has refused to disclose Hasan's mental evaluation but has said the findings will not prevent the military from pursuing a court-martial. Last year a military mental health panel assessed Hasan to determine whether he is competent to stand trial and his mental state during the shootings. It also determined if he had a severe mental illness that day, and if so, whether such a condition prevented him from knowing at the time that his alleged actions were wrong.