Dallas • Hundreds of unarmed soldiers, some about to deploy to Afghanistan, were waiting inside a building for vaccines and routine checkups when a fellow soldier walked inside with two handguns and enough ammunition to commit one of the worst mass shootings in American history.
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan doesn't deny that he carried out the November 2009 rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 people dead and more than 30 others wounded. There are dozens of witnesses who saw it happen. Military law prohibits him from entering a guilty plea because authorities are seeking the death penalty. But if he is convicted and sentenced to death in a trial that starts Tuesday, there are likely years, if not decades, of appeals ahead.
He may never make it to the death chamber at all.
While the Hasan case is unusually complex, experts also say the military justice system is unaccustomed to dealing with death penalty cases and has struggled to avoid overturned sentences. Eleven of the 16 death sentences handed down by military juries in the past 30 years have been overturned, according to an academic study and court records. No active-duty soldier has been executed since 1961.
A reversed verdict in the Hasan case would be a fiasco for prosecutors and the Army. That is one reason why prosecutors and the military judge have been deliberate leading up to trial, said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at the South Texas College of Law and former military lawyer.
Hasan plans to represent himself at trial. He has suggested he wants to argue the killings were in "defense of others" namely, members of the Taliban fighting Americans in Afghanistan. The trial judge has so far denied that strategy.