By Ellen Wulfhorst
FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - The military jury deciding the fate of U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan was slated on Wednesday to begin deliberations on whether he should be sentenced to death for the November 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas.
The same jury of 13 officers convicted Hasan of killing 13 people and wounding 31 others, most of them unarmed soldiers, at the central Texas base.
Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, declined to make any statement nor present any evidence in his defense on Tuesday, ahead of the deliberations.
"The defense rests," said Hasan, who has acted as his own attorney.
The jury can decide to sentence him to death or to life in prison. If the jury unanimously recommends death, Hasan could face lethal injection, possibly making him the first U.S. soldier to be executed by the U.S. military since 1961.
Hasan said in his opening statement on August 6 that he was the gunman and that he had switched sides in what he considered to be a U.S. war on Islam.
He opened fire at the base on November 5, 2009, just weeks before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan.
Standby defense attorneys for Hasan attempted on Tuesday to present so-called mitigating evidence to argue for a life sentence, instead of the death penalty, including details on his background, family life, education, military experience and logs of his behavior in jail.
"If no one makes a case for life, there is only death," said Lieutenant Colonel Kris Poppe, one of the attorneys assigned to Hasan's case.
But Hasan objected to the effort on his behalf, telling Judge Colonel Tara Osborn he had "overzealous defense counsel."
The judge ruled in Hasan's favor, saying he should be allowed to control his side of the case.
"Major Hasan is the captain of his own ship," the judge said after repeatedly reminding Hasan that he could mount a stronger defense of his life.
An American-born Muslim, Hasan earlier told mental health evaluators he wanted to become a martyr, and lawyers assisting him have said he was actively seeking the death penalty.
Hasan, 42, has disputed that claim.
The discussions about Hasan making little or no effort to argue for his life took place without the jury present.
Hasan, 42, who uses a wheelchair after being paralyzed when shot by police to end the rampage, was convicted on Friday of 45 counts of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder.
Twenty family members and victims gave evidence during the prosecution's side of the sentencing phase, recounting heart wrenching stories about their loss, grief and efforts to rebuild their lives. The prosecution rested its case on Tuesday.
Phillip Warman, the widower of Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, 55, testified that he drank heavily for eight months after she was murdered at Fort Hood.
Battling suicidal thoughts, Warman said he had a friend remove all the weapons from his home.
"I didn't trust myself," he said. "I was doing it with slow weapons, with alcohol."
Now sober, Warman said he takes his sobriety coins from Alcoholics Anonymous, presented to mark recovery milestones, and pushes them into the ground at his wife's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
A death sentence for Hasan would mean the start of a lengthy process requiring the approval of the Fort Hood commanding general, and the U.S. president, in order for there to be an execution.
(Additional reporting by Jana J. Pruet; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)