By Will Weissert and Paul J. Weber
FORT HOOD, Texas — Maj. Nidal Hasan was convicted Friday for the deadly 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, a shocking assault against American troops at home by one of their own who said he opened fire on fellow soldiers to protect Muslim insurgents abroad.
A jury of high-ranking military officers reached a unanimous guilty verdict on all 13 counts of premeditated murder and a guilty verdict on 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. Hasan is now eligible for the death penalty.
Hasan stared at the jury with no visible reaction as the verdict was read. After he and jurors left the courtroom, some victims who survived the attack and victims' relatives began to cry.
The Army psychiatrist acknowledged carrying out the attack at the Texas military base inside a crowded waiting room, where unarmed troops were making final preparations to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq. Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 were wounded.
Because Hasan never denied his actions, the case was always less about a conviction than it was about ensuring a death sentence.
From the beginning, the government has sought to execute Hasan, believing that any lesser sentence would deprive the military and victims' families of the justice they have sought since the Nov. 5, 2009, attack.
Autumn Manning, whose husband, retired Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning, was shot six times during the attack, said Friday that she had been concerned that some premeditated murder charges might be lessened to manslaughter, which could have taken a death sentence off the table.
"I've just been crying since we heard it (the verdict), because it was a relief," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Lacey, Wash., where she and her husband live. "We just wanted to hear the premeditated."
The 13 jurors took about seven hours to reach the verdict. In the next phase of the trial, which begins Monday, jurors must unanimously agree to give Hasan the death penalty before he could be sent to the military's death row, which has just five other prisoners. If they do not agree, the 42-year-old could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Hasan, a Virginia-born Muslim, said the attack was a jihad against U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He bristled when the trial judge, Col. Tara Osborn, suggested the shooting rampage could have been avoided were it not for a spontaneous flash of anger.
"It wasn't done under the heat of sudden passion," Hasan said before jurors began deliberating. "There was adequate provocation _ that these were deploying soldiers that were going to engage in an illegal war."
All but one of the dead were soldiers, including a pregnant private who curled on the floor and pleaded for her baby's life.
The attack came to an end when Hasan was shot in the back by one of the officers responding to the shooting. He is now paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair.
During the trial, about 50 soldiers and civilians testified of hearing someone scream "Allahu akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — and seeing a man in Army camouflage open fire inside a medical building on the base. Many identified Hasan as the shooter and recalled his handgun's red and green laser sights piercing a room made dark with gun smoke.
Hasan, who is serving as his own attorney, began the trial by telling jurors that evidence would "clearly show" he was the gunman. But he said little else over the next three weeks, and his court-appointed standby lawyers accused him of trying to ensure himself a death sentence.
As the trial progressed, those suspicions grew. The military called nearly 90 witnesses, but Hasan questioned only three of them and rested his case without calling any witnesses or testifying. Yet he leaked documents to the media during the trial, including a report showing that he told military mental health workers that he could "still be a martyr" if executed by the government.
Death sentences are rare in the military and trigger automatic appeals that take decades to play out. Among the final barriers to execution is authorization from the president. No American soldier has been executed since 1961.
Prosecutors said Hasan spent weeks planning the attack, including buying a handgun and videotaping a sales clerk showing him how to change the magazine.
He later plunked down $10 at a gun range outside Austin, about 70 miles south of Fort Hood, and asked for pointers on how to reload with speed and precision. An instructor said he told Hasan to practice while watching television or sitting on his couch with the lights off.
On the day of the attack, Hasan stuffed paper towels in the pockets of his cargo pants to muffle the rattling ammunition. Soldiers testified that Hasan's rapid reloading made it all but impossible to stop the shooting. Investigators recovered 146 shell casings inside the medical building and dozens more outside, where Hasan shot at the backs of soldiers fleeing toward the parking lot.
A civilian who tried to stop Hasan was shot dead while wielding a chair. Another soldier who ran at the guman with a table was stopped upon being shot in the hand.
Another soldier saw an opening after hearing the distinct clicking of the gun's chamber emptying, but he slipped on a puddle of blood while starting a sprint toward Hasan and was shot in the back.
The small courtroom where witnesses recalled those minutes was under tight security. Guarded by soldiers carrying high-powered rifles, the courthouse was made into a fortress insulated by a 20-foot cushion of blast-absorbing blockades, plus an outer perimeter of shipping containers stacked three high. A helicopter ferried Hasan back and forth each day.
In court, Hasan never played the role of an angry extremist. He didn't get agitated or raise his voice, and was polite to the judge and prosecutors.
His muted presence was a contrast to the spectacles staged by other unapologetic jihadists in U.S. courts. Terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui disrupted his 2006 sentencing for the Sept. 11 attacks multiple times with outbursts, was ejected several times and once proclaimed, "I am al-Qaida!"
Prosecutors never charged Hasan as a terrorist — an omission that still galls family members of the slain and survivors, some of whom have sued the U.S. government over missing the warning signs of Hasan's views before the attack.
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Copyright 2013 Associated Press