Judge considers delay in Fort Hood suspect's trial

AP News
Posted: Jun 19, 2012 9:28 AM
Judge considers delay in Fort Hood suspect's trial

A military judge will hear arguments Tuesday on whether to delay the trial of an Army psychiatrist charged in the fatal 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas.

The judge postponed Maj. Nidal Hasan's pre-trial hearing earlier this month because the defendant had grown a beard, contrary to Army regulations. The judge, Col. Gregory Gross, has said he will bar Hasan from the courtroom and force him to watch Tuesday's proceedings through closed-circuit television if he is unshaven. Gross has the power to bar defendants from court for such violations.

Hasan has been clean-shaven in all other court appearances since the 2009 attack, which killed 13 people and injured more than 30 others. He is an American-born Muslim, and his attorneys have said they will seek an exception to the Army's rule based on his religious beliefs.

Gross is expected to consider several motions during Tuesday's hearing, including whether to delay Hasan's trial until December. The trial was already postponed from March and then June, after defense attorneys said they needed more time to prepare. The trial is currently scheduled for Aug. 20.

Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. The trial is expected to last at least two months, and a military jury will be brought in from Fort Sill, Okla.

Fort Hood spokesman Chris Haug said Monday that post officials wouldn't know until Tuesday whether Hasan had followed the judge's order about shaving his beard. Fort Hood officials also wouldn't say whether Hasan would be charged if he shows up unshaven, though one possible charge is failure to obey a lawful order or regulation, which carries a maximum two-year jail sentence.

Jeff Addicott, a former senior legal adviser to the Army's Special Forces who isn't involved in the case, said Hasan may be growing the beard with the hope of making a case that he is being persecuted for his faith.

"He's going to play the religious card," said Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law. "And this is his last card to play ... because no one believes he's not going to be found guilty."

Witnesses have said that on the morning of Nov. 5, 2009, a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform opened fire after shouting "Allahu Akbar!" _ or "God is great!" in Arabic _ in a Fort Hood medical building where deploying and returning soldiers received vaccines and other tests. Several witnesses identified the gunman as Hasan, who was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan the following month.

Hasan, 41, is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the rampage. He remains jailed.