Texas base shooting suspect to appear in court

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 20, 2011 3:28 PM
Texas base shooting suspect to appear in court

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. Army psychiatrist charged in a 2009 killing rampage at a Texas military base will be arraigned before a military judge on Wednesday.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 40, whom officials have said had links to a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen, is charged in the Fort Hood shootings that killed 13 people and wounded 32 others on November 5, 2009.

The wheelchair-bound suspect will appear in a Fort Hood courtroom for an arraignment scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. CDT before the base's chief circuit judge, Colonel Gregory Gross.

At the arraignment, Gross will allow Hasan to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, and could set a date for the trial.

If convicted, Hasan could face the death penalty and would be the first American soldier to be executed in a U.S. military proceeding in over 50 years if the sentence is carried out.

Hasan would have the right to appeal any verdict delivered to several military and civilian courts -- including the Supreme Court -- a process that could take years, military justice experts said.

The president would also have to personally approve any execution before it is carried out.

According to witnesses who testified at evidentiary hearings at Fort Hood in 2010, Hasan shouted "Allahu Akbar" -- Arabic for "God is Greatest" -- just before opening fire on a group of soldiers undergoing health checks before being deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hasan is confined to a wheelchair after he was paralyzed from the chest down by bullet wounds inflicted by civilian police officers during the November 5, 2009, shooting.

The incident has raised concerns over the threat of "homegrown" militant attacks. U.S. officials said Hasan had exchanged e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki, an anti-American al Qaeda figure based in Yemen.

Fort Hood is a major deployment point for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

(Reporting by Kelley Shannon. Editing by Peter Bohan)