Tuesday will mark the beginning of the military trial of Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army major who gunned down 13 people and injured several dozen more during his 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood. Hasan, both in court and out of it, has already admitted to being the gunman—he claims to have been trying to protect Taliban leaders from U.S. soldiers deploying to Afghanistan—and has even offered to plead guilty to the charges. But that doesn’t mean that the courtroom action will be without its fair share of drama, as the New York Times explains this morning in a great table-setter:
It is not unusual for victims to face their assailants in court, as [Staff Sgt. Alonzo M. Lunsford Jr.] will do on Tuesday, when he testifies on the first day of Major Hasan’s military trial. What is extraordinary is that Major Hasan, seated behind the defense table in a Fort Hood courtroom, may be the one questioning Sergeant Lunsford during cross-examination.
Major Hasan is representing himself, one of many elements of his long-delayed court-martial that legal experts say will make it one of the most unpredictable and significant military trials in recent history. “I will be cross-examined by the man who shot me,” said Sergeant Lunsford, 46, who retired from the Army and remains blind in his left eye. “You can imagine all the emotions that are going to be coming up.”
Other than the scene of a shooter questioning someone who he shot, however, legal watchers and historians aren’t exactly sure what to expect once the trial gets underway. For starters, there’s the question of just how much the trial will explore Hasan’s radical Islamic beliefs. And, while it likely won’t prove too difficult a task for Army lawyers to convince the jury of 13 to find Hasan guilty, it’s less clear if the government will be able to achieve its ultimate goal: the death penalty. (The reason the Army refused to accept Hasan’s offer to plead guilty is because, by military law, that would have taken a death sentence off the table.) Even if they do, such an outcome is all but certain to be subject to a lengthy appeals process, one that history would suggest could last more than a decade. Head on over to the Times for more on what’s likely to prove to be a historic trial regardless of the outcome.