12:00 AM CST on Sunday, December 13, 2009
By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News
BELTON, Texas – CNN’s Wolf Blitzer barked at John P. Galligan on national TV, demanding to know how a retired colonel and Army judge could defend anyone accused of slaughtering fellow soldiers. On Fox, Greta Van Susteren told the rumpled lawyer that he had the lousiest legal job in America.
Photos by BENJAMIN SKLAR/Special Contributor
Attorney John P. Galligan represents Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people and injuring dozens more during a shooting spree Nov. 5 at Fort Hood.
Yet Galligan says defending the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 12 soldiers and a civilian and wounding dozens at Fort Hood may be his last, best case.
The lawyer says he agreed to defend Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan for the same reason he has spent nearly four decades in military courtrooms, as prosecutor, defense attorney and military judge.
“I love soldiers,” he says. Jutting his chin and squinting through thick glasses, he speaks of their sacrifices. Justice depends, he contends, on fair treatment even for soldiers accused of the most horrific crimes. “We owe them.”
For years, soldiers in trouble have found their way to Galligan’s limestone office at the southern edge of downtown Belton. The 60-year-old lawyer seldom turns anyone away.
One Fort Hood officer says Galligan has represented so many of his men that he’s on retainer to the battalion. At Bell County’s jail, where Fort Hood soldiers are held pending military trials, jailers joke that Galligan’s phone number must be scrawled on cell walls.
“Just fighting the good fight,” Galligan tells colleagues who ask how he’s holding up.
Legal pugilistGalligan is a cheerful legal and political pugilist, but his latest case seems a hopeless battle to many. The charges against Hasan – 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder – are backed by so much evidence that some lawyers quip that it’s the kind of case that turns defense lawyers into pallbearers.
Dozens of witnesses saw Hasan pull two pistols and gun down colleagues on Nov. 5. He fired hundreds of rounds before civilian police returned fire and wounded him four times, leaving him paralyzed. A U.S.-born son of Palestinian immigrants, Hasan had told relatives he wanted out of the Army. Colleagues recalled his saying that Muslim soldiers shouldn’t have to fight fellow Muslims.
Yet Galligan didn’t hesitate when one of Hasan’s brothers saw him quoted in a news report and called from overseas to ask him to take the case. Even the worst accusations are only accusations, Galligan keeps telling reporters. Even the most unpopular soldier deserves a fair trial, he says.
“He cares. And he tries so hard,” says Kim Anderson Stewart of Denton. Galligan recently defended her son, a three-time Iraq combat veteran with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress syndrome. The soldier was sentenced to seven years in state prison for aggravated assault after shooting his wife in the face with a pistol – an incident that the couple insisted was an accident.
“I don’t understand it, really, because he could be enjoying his retirement and playing on the farm with his wife,” Stewart says of Galligan. “He’s always working – seven days a week. He just wants to help these soldiers. It’s like it’s his mission.”