FORT HOOD, Texas – Military officials on Thursday filed 13 charges of premeditated murder against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan for allegedly gunning down his fellow soldiers last week, setting the stage for the most high-profile court-martial in a generation.
The charges carry the potential of the death penalty, which the military is widely expected to seek but has not formally announced it is pursuing. Because the 39-year-old psychiatrist is still an active duty soldier, military courts have jurisdiction rather than civilian ones.
“It’s quite possibly one of the most sensitive military justice matters that’s ever come up,” said Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale University and is president of the National Institute for Military Justice. “All this makes for a probably history-making case.”
Officials allege that Hasan, a devout Muslim who was due to deploy to Afghanistan, opened fire upon unarmed soldiers who were filling out paperwork inside the Soldier Readiness Center here. Hasan allegedly killed 12 soldiers and one civilian before being shot by two civilian police officers.
On Thursday, Hasan remained confined at a military hospital, where authorities read the charges to him. Christopher Grey, a spokesman for the military’s investigative branch, said that the government remains convinced Hasan acted alone.
Grey said investigators were still poring over evidence, noting that the crime scene spreads over several buildings and open areas and some witnesses are still hospitalized.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday night that the military had already decided to seek the death penalty, citing an anonymous source. But military officials would not confirm that and said the decision would be made by the commanding general of the base, Lt. Gen. Robert W. Cone, who just received the formal charges Thursday.
There have been no military executions since 1961, although eight people are on the military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Military law requires the president to formally approve any execution.
Analysts agreed that Hasan’s case will be difficult to defend.
“This isn’t something that was done in the dark of night and we’re trying to reconstruct that behavior,” said David Brahms, a former brigadier general and military prosecutor. “There are dozens of witnesses.”
Under military law, premeditated murder does not require lengthy planning, only “the formation of a specific intent to kill and consideration of the act intended to bring death.”
Hasan will be given a military lawyer. He has also retained a private one, a former colonel who has said there has been such overwhelming publicity here against his client that the court-martial should be held elsewhere.