FORT HOOD, Texas — The soldier on trial for the deadly 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood refused to put up a fight on Wednesday, resting his case without calling a single witness or testifying in his own defense.
Maj. Nidal Hasan could face the death penalty if convicted for the attack that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others at the Texas military base. But when given the chance to rebut prosecutors’ lengthy case — which included nearly 90 witnesses — the Army psychiatrist declined.
About five minutes after court began Wednesday, a day after prosecutors rested their case, the judge asked Hasan how he wanted to proceed. He answered: “The defense rests.”
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, then asked Hasan: “You have the absolute right to remain silent. You do not have to say anything. You have the right to testify if you choose. Understand?”
Hasan answered that he did. When the judge asked if this was his personal decision, he said: “It is.”
Osborn then adjourned the trial until Thursday morning, agreeing to give prosecutors an extra day to prepare their closing arguments. Jurors were led out of the courtroom.
Hasan’s move wasn’t completely unexpected. He has made no attempt since the trial began two weeks ago to prove his innocence. He also has done little to challenge the narrative of military prosecutors, who showed evidence of Hasan’s laptop being used to search the Internet for “jihad” and find articles about calls to attack Americans in the days and even hours before the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting.
He has sat mostly silent, raising few objections, declining to let military lawyers take over his defense and questioning only three of prosecutors’ witnesses. Several of those witnesses were shot during the attack and recalled hearing a shout of “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” — inside a crowded medical building before Hasan opened fire using a laser-sighted handgun.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, suggested before trial that he wanted to argue that the killings were in defense of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, but that strategy was rejected by the judge.
Since then, he has offered little for jurors to consider. In fact, during a brief opening statement, Hasan said evidence would show he was the shooter and called himself a soldier who had “switched sides” in a war.
Suspicions about Hasan’s defense strategy elevated as the trial dragged on, as he leaked documents to journalists revealing that he told military mental health workers after the attack that he could “still be a martyr” if convicted and executed by the government.
Yet he never played the role of a high-threat, angry extremist in court. Hasan, who was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by Fort Hood police officers responding to the rampage, didn’t get agitated in court or raise his voice.
But that passive and muted presence convinced his court-ordered, standby attorneys that he was trying to convince jurors to convict him and sentence him to death. The attorneys had asked that their advisory roles be minimized, saying Hasan’s defense strategy was “repugnant,” but the judge refused.
Hasan began the trial signaling that he would call on just two people to testify — one a mitigation expert in capital murder cases and the other a California professor of psychology and religion.
But on Tuesday, he indicated to the judge that he would now call neither witness. That left even Osborn raising her own skepticism that Hasan would seize his last chance to defend himself.
Prosecutors were expected to give their closing argument on Thursday, though it was unclear whether Hasan would do the same.