Army officer accused of Fort Hood massacre back in court

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 20, 2013 12:00 PM
Army officer accused of Fort Hood massacre back in court

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Army Major Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people during a 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, was at a military court at the base on Wednesday for a hearing on his request to change the venue of his court martial trial and other procedural issues.

A military judge last month set July 1 for the start of the court martial for Hasan, who has been in custody since the shooting rampage that also wounded 32 people. Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted.

Selection of a jury, or panel in military law terminology, is scheduled to begin in May.

Judge Colonel Tara Osborn has been trying to get the trial schedule on track after extensive delays while the military justice system debated whether Hasan, who is Muslim, should be required to shave his beard to comply with military rules.

Osborn has put that issue aside.

Jeffrey Addicott, a retired Army Special Forces Judge Advocate General, said Osborne probably will refuse the request to move the trial to another base.

"This is such a high profile case that you can't go to any military installation in the world and find a panel which has not heard about this case," Addicott said.

The Army has said that the officers who will make up Hasan's jury will be brought in from another post, probably Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

Hasan is accused of jumping onto a table in an office at Ft. Hood on November 5, 2009 and shooting a pistol at soldiers who were preparing for deployment to the Middle East.

The rampage ended when two civilian police officers shot Hasan, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the chest down. He has appeared in court in a wheelchair.

Other possible topics for Wednesday's hearing include defense objections to the testimony of terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann, who prosecutors hope will help them show Hasan planned the attack as a terrorist act.

Osborn has denied a request by Hasan's lawyers that the death penalty be removed from consideration in return for a guilty plea.

Hasan could also decide to plead guilty to lesser charges, including 32 specifications of attempted capital murder. Richard Rosen, former Staff Judge Advocate at Ft. Hood and now a law professor at Texas Tech University, expects that option would lead to hard questions from the judge.

Rosen said Hasan may need to tell the court that he accepts responsibility for his actions. "Nothing Hasan has said or done to date leads me to believe he has any remorse for his actions," Rosen said.

Geoffrey Corn, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Judge Advocate Corps and now a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, said expressing regret could be important if Hasan hopes to avoid the death penalty.

"The only thing he can offer would be a willingness to accept responsibility and show his remorse."

But the military law experts said they do not expect any guilty plea from Hasan to come at this hearing, and that is more likely just before the trial begins.

Corn said that after years of wrangling, Osborn is unlikely to accept any defense requests which would delay the court martial.

"I think she is sensitive to the fact that this has dragged on for a long time, and it's time to get this case to trial," he said.

(Editing by David Gregorio)