Ft. Hood – The judge could not hide her emotions as she spoke directly to the man who condemned himself with a pistol equipped with laser sights, and then made no effort to defend himself against the most serious of charges.
Though Judge (Col.) Tara Osborn spoke as a professional, a trial judge, seated on a somber mahogany-toned dais elevated far above the heads and shoulders of everyone else, she could not hide the basic decency and kind intonations of a sensible, middle-aged American woman.
“Major Hasan,” she said, beginning very carefully, “this is the phase where the members decide whether you should live or you should die.”
The former Army psychiatrist who had only a couple of hours before heard the verdict of a 13-member jury of senior officers convict him of the capital murder of 13 of his fellow soldiers on Nov. 5, 2009, and the attempted premeditated murder of an additional 32 persons, had defended himself after dismissing a retired Army judge, and then a top notch defense team of two Lt. Colonels and a Major.
His defense consisted of absolutely nothing. He called no witnesses, made very few attempts at cross examining the witnesses who testified against him, and made no closing argument in his own behalf.
“Just because you represented yourself is no reason you cannot have representation,” Col. Osborn continued. “You understand you will be better off with an attorney to represent you.”
“Yes, ma'am,” said Hasan, with all due respect. Listening to the tone and timbre of his voice, you get the idea he really is genuinely respectful. He listened calmly as she explained that his standby counsel are ready to resume their professional responsibilities at any time, that they will do their best to try to help preserve his natural life, a life he cannot now avoid living in the penitentiary without the possibility of parole in even the best case scenario.
He is paralyzed from the middle of his chest to his lower extremities, wheelchair bound and nerve-damaged in both his arms and hands as a result of a gunfight with two civilian military policemen who stopped his murderous rampage at a medical clinic with their 9 millimeter pistols.
He is dependent on others for even his most basic needs.
“I think it is unwise for you to represent yourself,” the judge continued. Without proper legal training, he is unable to determine when to object in order to preserve the record in his favor.
He did not relent. He said he wishes to continue, and the judge remarked that the record should reflect that the decision was “made with full knowledge and understanding.” She went a little bit further by pointing out that without legal training, he is not a lawyer, and that there is no possibility of his raising the point on appeal that he had ineffective counsel if he continues to represent himself.
He has not been threatened or treated in any abusive manner; he has not been promised anything, or in any way influenced by others, she determined for the record through her questions.
And then the afternoon's hearing into the procedures and evidentiary requirements of the Government's case for a death sentence began.
There was a long and pettifogging discussion of the Major's actual date of service as an enlisted man, his pay grade, and the date upon which he assumed his duties as a commissioned officer. He will hold the rank of Major until he is sentenced and the court martial is complete.
At that point, the judge, the prosecutors, and Hasan began to sound like the career military people they are, their discussion veering into the military arcana of what is professionally referred to as “G-1,” which is Army for the personnel department, their dialogue peppered with references to the initials of bureaucratic phrases.
Col. Mike Mulligan, the lead prosecutor, informed the judge that he will call 19 in-person witnesses and revisit the stipulated expected testimony of Officer Mark Todd, the man who ended the gunfight with Hasan and finally kicked the wicked little 5.7 x 28 mm FN Herstal semiautomatic out of his hands, flipped him over on his stomach and cuffed his hands behind his back, then flipped him back over so the medics could treat his wounds and preserve his life.
How long will that take?
“It is possible I could go through them in one day,” Col. Mulligan replied.
Then began the tedious and meticulous process of the examination of the exhibits that will be shown, which are many snapshots of the victims and their families.
“I have said before that I will not admit any pictures which might have a cumulative effect,” the judge declared.
She is carefully preserving the record so that it will not be shown on appeal that the repetitive nature of near-identical photos had a cumulative or prejudicial effect on the jurors.
How is this picture different from that one? The judge asked it over and over again during the long and droning afternoon's hearing until, finally, Hasan himself interjected by saying – several times - “You honor, I have no objections to these pictures.”
“Thank you for that, Major Hasan,” the judge said in a composed tone that nevertheless carried some air of dismissal.
He didn't take the hint. He repeated himself several times, as if he did not understand that now, as a convicted murderer, his social cachet is ultimately diminished in the eyes of the world.
Finally, in a nervous way, Hasan repeated his caveat, that he has no objection to the pictures, their repetitive or cumulative nature, and he showed some considerable pique by saying, “So we can just knock all this off.”
“Thank you, Major Hasan,” the judge replied, which is a very polite and militarily courteous way of saying that's all very well, and that what has been said is really all we will need to say about all that - for now.
Thus chastened, Hasan then spoke only when she addressed him.