The jury in the court martial of Nidal Hasan sentenced him to death Wednesday. He was convicted of killing 13 people and wounding more 32 in the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood. But legal experts say it could still be years before the death sentence is carried out – if at all.
Under military law, Hasan’s case will automatically be appealed because he received a death sentence, even if he doesn’t want to appeal.
But before the case goes to an appeals court, the commanding general of Fort Hood must approve the findings and the sentence. That alone will take a while.
“Simply because the record is so long, and Hasan has the opportunity to read and review and submit matters in his own defense. And also, the staff judge advocate makes sure there are no errors, and that takes a while," says Texas Tech Law Professor Richard Rosen.
That's just the first step in what’s expected to be a lengthy appeals process. Once it’s approved, it heads to Court of Criminal Appeals. If they affirm the case, it then goes to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. That’s a five-judge civilian court. From there, if Hasan wanted, he could seek review as high as the U.S. Supreme Court.
“So it could take a couple of years, at least," Rosen says.
Hasan will be assigned completely new lawyers for the appeals process, but he can still represent himself if he chooses. But another Texas Tech Law professor, Walter Huffman, says that would be difficult.
“Generally, the argument is a legal argument, based on evidentiary rules or some other legal issues, and a lay person representing themselves there would be in a very difficult circumstance," Huffman says.
Hasan will join five other soldiers on Military Death Row in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Those five already there—all convicted of murder—are currently fighting their sentences, while Hasan has not fought his sentence thus far.
One of the soldiers on Military Death Row was convicted more than 20 years ago—and has even had a president sign off on his execution. But it’s on hold as his appeals continue. Jeff Addicott is a law professor with St Mary’s Law School in San Antonio. He says the case that best compares with Hasan’s is that of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who waived his rights during appeal.
"He said, 'I don’t want to assert any rights,' but there’s still an automatic system where court-appointed appellate lawyers will look on his behalf. It’s just a slow process," Addicott says.
If his appeals are ultimately exhausted and the President signs off, Hasan would likely be executed by lethal injection.
Correction: This article previous misspelt Dr. Jeff Addicott's last name. KUT regrets the error.