FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — If Nidal Hasan plans to welcome a death sentence as a pathway to martyrdom, the rules of military justice won't let him go down without a fight — whether he likes it or not.
The Army psychiatrist was sentenced Wednesday to die for the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30. But before an execution date is set, Hasan faces years, if not decades, of appeals. And this time, he won't be allowed to represent himself.
"If he really wants the death penalty, the appeals process won't let it happen for a very long time," said Joseph Gutheinz, a Texas attorney licensed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. "The military is going to want to do everything at its own pace. They're not going to want to let the system kill him, even if that's what he wants."
Hasan opened fire at a Fort Hood medical center packed with soldiers heading to or recently returned from overseas combat deployments. He also was set to soon go to Afghanistan to counsel soldiers there, and said he carried out the attack to protect Muslim insurgents on foreign soil.
During trial, Hasan acknowledged that evidence showed he was the gunman, and put up virtually no defense of his actions. He's suggested in writings that he would "still be a martyr" if he received death. At trial, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, a standby military attorney assigned to Hasan, told the judge that Hasan's "goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty."
Now that Hasan's been sentenced to death, a written record of the trial will be produced and Fort Hood's commanding general will have the option of granting clemency. Assuming none is granted, the case record is then scrutinized by the appeals courts for the Army and armed forces.
If Hasan's case and death sentence are eventually affirmed, he could ask the U.S. Supreme Court for a review or file motions in federal civilian courts. The president, as the military commander in chief, also must sign off on a death sentence.
That process is anything but speedy. The military hasn't executed an active-duty U.S. soldier since 1961.
As the appeals proceed, Hasan is going to military death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He was shot in the back during the rampage, paralyzing him from the waist down. He is confined to a wheelchair and requires specialized care — though the death row facility has a health clinic that apparently can meet his needs.
Military appeals courts have overturned 11 of the 16 death sentences of the last three decades — and that doesn't include former Senior Airman Andrew P. Witt, who is one of five men on military death row but whose sentence was ordered reopened recently on appeal.
There's no way to estimate how long the appeals process could take for Hasan or any other case. The longest current case is that of Ronald Gray, a former Army cook at Fort Bragg in North Carolina who was convicted in 1988 on 14 charges, including two premeditated murders.