By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A military judge on Friday rejected a request by accused Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan to delay his court martial a third time and ordered him to stand trial August 20 for the 2009 shooting that left 13 people dead and 31 wounded.
Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted. The Army psychiatrist is accused of opening fire on a group of soldiers at the Central Texas Army post who were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. He was shot four times by Fort Hood civilian guards and now uses a wheelchair.
His defense attorney, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, told Gross he needed more time to interview witnesses and review evidence.
Hasan was not in the courtroom on Friday because Col. Gregory Gross, the presiding officer, ruled the full beard Hasan has grown this year is a distraction and violates Army grooming regulations.
Gross announced on Friday that an Army appeals court has rejected Hasan's request for a religious exception that would have allowed him to remain in the courtroom with the beard, Fort Hood officials said. Hasan followed the proceedings on a video hookup from a trailer next to the Fort Hood court building.
Gross also rejected a claim by Poppe that Gross had demonstrated bias against Hasan and should withdraw from the case, Fort Hood officials said. Poppe said he will appeal that decision.
Retired Army Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a former judge advocate for the Army Special Forces and a law professor at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, said the judge made the right decision in rejecting what would have been a third delay.
"The process for any defense counsel when you know you are going to lose the case at trial is to delay and this is no exception," Addicott said.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)