FORT HOOD -- The standby defense counsel for Army Maj. Nidal Hasan entered a military courtroom Thursday morning on the heels of a rare, albeit minor decision in their favor.
Late Wednesday, Judge Col. Tara Osborn ruled a report by the Air Force Sanity Board off-limits during the court martial of the confessed Fort Hood shooter. Released to the New York Times and Fox News by Hasan's civil attorney, the report outlines the 2009 mass shooting that left 13 dead in Hasan's own words.
In excerpts the report available for download online, Hasan stated, "I was focused... I had a mission to accomplish." According to Hasan, that mission was "to take out as many soldiers as I could before I got stopped."
Hasan carried out his mission by choosing a medical building crowded with soldiers just back from lunch, many of them seated and awaiting medical clearance before deploying overseas. The morning before the rampage began, Hasan reported he expected to be killed. He shredded several documents and gave most of his possessions to his neighbor before leaving his apartment.
Hasan told the Sanity Board he didn't think what he did was wrong because he was "helping my Muslim brothers," but admitted he did regret being paralyzed by gunfire from law enforcement that ended his rampage. As far as his court martial, he stated, "If I died by lethal injection I would still be a martyr."
Judge Osborn ruled Hasan's mental health isn't the focus of the court martial, declaring the report off-limits as suggested by attorneys charged with assisting Hasan's self-defense. South Texas College of Law professor and former judge advocate Geoffrey S. Corn told media Thursday the decision would protect the legal record of the court martial proceedings, and ultimately take little away from the government's case.
"From the prosecution standpoint, I think there's abundant evidence of premeditation, so I don't think it's something that they're going to jump up and down about," said Corn. "And in my view [it's] probably the best decision for the record anyway because it avoids inserting something that an appellate court could look at later and say we're not sure if it should have come in, even without the objection of the accused."
Testimony continued Thursday morning with medical examiners describes the autopsies performed on several of the shooting victims in graphic detail. Forensic pathologist Lt. Col. Phillip Berran testified a bullet pierced the heart and lung of Pfc. Aaron Nemelka, an injury that Berran said would have caused him to essentially drown in his own blood.
According to Berran, Pfc. Frederick Greene suffered a total of twelve gunshot wounds in a manner consistent with Greene charging Hasan. Some of the autopsy photos were so graphic, Osborn ruled they would not be allowed to be shown in court.
"As you all know this was never a whodunit," said Corn, who explained prosecutors seeking the death penalty must prove the killing was premeditated and aggravated, this week's testimony by medical examiners is intended to do make the case.
"This was planned," said Corn. "He had the volume of ammunition. He had the position in the building, and when he hit people, he didn't just hit. It wasn't random. He was plugging people repeatedly. So that's relevant on the issue of premeditation and intent."
Wearing a camouflage uniform and the thick beard he's been allowed to grown while in custody, Hasan showed no reaction. Over nearly two weeks of proceedings, Hasan has rarely protested or spoken to a witness. Corn suggests Hasan is saving his comments for the sentencing phase, when he'll be allowed to speak more freely.
"To paraphrase, I think he said there's no dispute who did it, but there's more to the story," said Corn. "So I think he wants to get to that point so he can be unrestrained in his presentation of his own subjective motive."
The government is expected to rest its case early next week. The last scheduled to testify are the officers who shot Hasan, stopping the rampage and leaving him paralyzed.
"Chronologically it makes perfect sense," said Corn. "It is the closing chapter on this unbelievable tragedy, and it also is extremely compelling evidence to close the government's case on a high point."
One of those officers could testify as early as Friday. Once the government rests, Hasan is expected to call three witness, including himself. Both sides will then make closing statements before the panel begins deliberation.
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