Texas Army

FORT WORTH — The new judge in the Fort Hood shooting rampage case faces a controversial decision next week: whether to spare Maj. Nidal Hasan a possible death sentence and let him plead guilty in the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military installation.

Defense attorneys said Hasan wants to plead guilty to 13 counts of premeditated murder, but Army rules prohibit a judge from accepting a guilty plea in a death penalty case. If the death sentence is removed, Hasan’s punishment would be life without parole — which he already faces if convicted of the 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the 2009 attack on the Texas Army post.

The date for his long-delayed trial has not been set, but pretrial hearings are scheduled Wednesday through Friday so the new military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, can reconsider several defense requests previously rejected by the former judge. That judge was removed after the military’s highest court said he appeared to show bias, a ruling that ended appeals that had delayed the case more than three months.

Defense attorneys argue that Hasan should be spared a possible death sentence because his rights have been violated — including by the former judge who ordered that Hasan’s beard be forcibly shaved. Hasan first showed up in court in June with a beard, later saying it was required by his Muslim faith, but facial hair violates Army rules.

Defense attorneys also claim Fort Hood’s commanding general was not impartial when he decided in July 2011 that Hasan would face the death penalty, and had been influenced by high-ranking government officials. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, has not yet entered a plea.

Osborn has full authority to decide on the death penalty issue because she is ruling on legal matters raised by the defense, said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio.

“I think the case will go forward as a death penalty case, because it’s dragged on for years, and if ever there was a case fitting of the death penalty, this is it,” said Addicott, who is not involved in the Hasan case, adding that he believed Hasan is “a radical extremist … and he has no remorse.”

He said defense attorneys are simply trying to quickly end the case by having their client plead guilty and avoid a death sentence.

Witnesses have said that a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform opened fire after shouting “Allahu Akbar!” — or “God is great!” in Arabic — inside a crowded medical building on Nov. 5, 2009, where deploying and returning soldiers received vaccines and other tests. Hasan was also about to deploy to Afghanistan.

A Senate report released in 2011 said the FBI missed warning signs about Hasan, alleging he had become an Islamic extremist and a “ticking time bomb” before the rampage at Fort Hood, about 125 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

 

Airforce ROTC students stand in front of the tower during a ceremony honoring Veterans Day on the South mall Monday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

ROTC students take down the American flag and the Prisoner of War flag on the South mall Monday afternoon. Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff  

 

Student members of UT’s ROTC programs stood in formation as the flag raised over South Mall during a Veterans Day ceremony Monday.

The ceremony was a joint effort between the Texas Army, Navy and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps programs in order to pay tribute to the men and women that served in the United States Armed Forces.

“It’s important to pay attention to a sacrifice someone has made for you,“ Stephen Ollar, president of the Student Veteran Association and economics senior, said.

He said being a veteran is something to be proud of. He served in the Army before attending UT and, through the association, tries to make life as students easier for veterans at UT.  

“We try to help veterans find friends, find a source of communication, something that can help them from going into some of the pitfalls of being a veteran: the isolation, the loneliness, the suicide that can come with being a veteran,”  Ollar said.

He said it is a common misconception that all veterans suffer from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or other post-service disorders. He said it is easier to relate with people that have been through similar experiences.

Benjamin Armstrong, coordinator of Student Veteran Services, served as a Marine and said he has worked with 1,947 of UT’s student veterans through the Student Veteran Services office. Student Veteran Services opened on Veterans Day 2011 and celebrated its first anniversary Sunday.

“We are a one-stop shop on campus for veterans and their dependents to access this institution and understand how it works,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he is a natural fit for his position, because as a veteran he can connect with student veterans and help them get all the benefits for which they are eligible.

“I give them the lay of the land and a safe haven. The Student Veteran Association gives them that group of fellow travelers to be social with,” Armstrong said.

Lee Leffingwell, Austin mayor and Navy veteran, spoke at the ceremony about his experience during Aviation Officer Training School. He said 40 years later, he still remembers two of his sergeant instructors, who died in the line of duty during the Vietnam War. He said the lessons they taught him transferred from active duty into his life as a veteran.

“For my years of experience as mayor and retired Navy commander, I believe that the values you develop and will continue to develop will continue through aspects of your life,” Leffingwell said.

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Kopser, commanding officer of Texas Army ROTC, said it is thrilling to watch young students choose a life of service in the Armed Forces when they join one of UT’s ROTC programs.

“It is a huge honor to watch young people raise their right hand to join the United States Armed Forces during a time of war and take an oath to preserve the United States,” Kopser said.

Printed on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 as: Time of appreciation