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Fort Hood Shooting Suspect Unlikely to Get Death Penalty

Crimes that occur on military bases are usually heard in the military justice system. But while that may sound harsher than a civilian court, the sentences usually turn out to be more lenient.

The result is that Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who allegedly gunned down 13 people at the military base in Texas last week, is unlikely to get the death penalty. Meanwhile, John Muhammad, the sniper who shot dead at least 10 people in Virginia in 2002, was executed for his crimes last night.

In fact, there hasn’t been a military execution since 1961, The Associated Press reports today. Although there have been death sentences, an execution order signed by President George W. Bush last year for a former Army cook convicted of multiple rapes and murders in the 1980s has been stayed. And five men sentenced to capital punishment still sit on death row in Fort Leavenworth, Kans.

The disparity in penalties between military and civilian courts has a parallel in the military commission system, which likewise has so far meted out shorter sentences to the few convicted terrorists it’s tried than the civilian one has.

Whether the perpetrator of last week’s mass murder will be spared execution remains to be seen. But lawmakers clamoring for military trials for the five 9/11 suspects as a way to look extra tough on terrorism ought to be careful what they wish for.

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