U.S. News

Fort Hood murderer, two others seen headed to notorious U.S. prison

LEAVENWORTH, Kansas (Reuters) - Surrounded by 14-foot high fencing and spread over 51 acres of Midwest river country, the U.S. maximum security military prison here has a long history of housing some of the nation’s most notorious soldiers-turned-criminals.

Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people and wounding 31 in a November 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, is pictured in an undated Bell County Sheriff's Office photograph. REUTERS/Bell County Sheriff's Office/Handout

And soon it expects at have at least three more.

Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan, who was found guilty on Friday of killing 13, mostly soldiers, in a rampage at a military base in Fort Hood Texas, could become the sixth man on death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Army staff sergeant Robert Bales, who was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for killing 16 Afghan civilians in a nighttime massacre last year, is also to serve out his sentence in Leavenworth, a semi-rural community in northeast Kansas.

U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, who was sentenced on Wednesday to 35 years in prison for turning over classified files to WikiLeaks, is also set to serve his sentence in Leavenworth.

It is the only maximum security - or “Level 3” - prison operated by the Department of Defense, handling military men who draw lengthy sentences for crimes deemed among the worst of the worst.

For decades the prisoners who were sent to Fort Leavenworth were locked away in an imposing fortress nicknamed the “Castle,” which rose high from the bluffs along the Missouri River and had a reputation for grim surroundings and a strict adherence to discipline for the more than 1,000 prisoners it held.

The barracks of the original facility were torn down in 2004, but ghosts of executed prisoners continue to haunt some of the still-standing facilities, locals say.

The $68 million dollar, modern-day facility, known simply as the USDB, opened in 2002 and now houses about 450 prisoners. There are no bars, cells have solid doors and a window, and prisoners are spread through three triangular shaped housing units.

Five inmates at USDB are on death row, all convicted of premeditated murder or felony murder. There is no death chamber at the USDB and the last military execution dates back to 1961 and it is not clear when or if another will take place. Unlike state executions, members of the military cannot be executed unless the U.S. President personally confirms the death sentence.

If he receives the death penalty, the 42-year-old Hasan would live in an isolated corridor away from other inmates. Hasan was found guilty Friday of premeditated murder for killing 13 and attempting to murder 32 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009. The convictions mean Hasan could face lethal injection. The penalty phase of Hasan’s court-martial begins on Monday and the jury will make a recommendation to the judge, who will determine the sentence.

Prison officials will not speak about Manning or Hasan specifically - they refuse to discuss individual inmates. But spokeswoman Kimberly Lewis said no one gets special treatment at the USDB.

That means requests for special attire or hormone therapy, such as Manning’s lawyer has said his 25-year-old client will seek to transition his gender from man to woman, will be hard to come by.

“According to Army regulations soldiers can not receive hormone therapy or reassignment surgery,” said Lewis.

The prison does offer individual and group therapy, as well as vocational training. Inmates can learn woodworking, sheet metal and welding skills, barbering and study how to be a dental assistant. Inmates also have the use of an indoor gym and weight room, a music room, library and an arts and crafts studio as well an outdoor baseball field, running track and basketball court.

Currently on death row at Fort Leavenworth are Army private Ronald Gray, who was convicted of multiple murders and rapes in crime spree in 1986 and 1987; former Army sergeant Hasan Akbar, convicted of murdering two people and attempting to murder 16 soldiers in an attack on a camp in Kuwait; Dwight Loving, an Army private who robbed and killed two cab drivers, shooting them each in the head; Andrew Witt, of the U.S. Air Force, who was convicted of stabbing a husband and wife to death in their home; and Timothy Hennis, also of the Army, who was convicted of killing a North Carolina mother and her two children.

Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer