By Don Bolding and Jim Forsyth
FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - A military judge on Thursday again denied a request from accused Fort Hood gunman Army Major Nidal Hasan to remove the death penalty as a punishment option in his forthcoming court-martial on charges of killing 13 people in a 2009 shooting rampage.
At a pre-trial hearing, judge Colonel Tara Osborn also denied requests from the defense that Hasan's trial be pushed back until September 1 and that a media affairs expert be appointed at government expense to assist the defense in jury selection.
Selection of the panel of officers who will act as the jury is set to begin on May 29, although Osborn said Thursday that interviews with prospective jurors might not begin until the following day.
Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is facing the death penalty for opening fire in Fort Hood, Texas, on a group of soldiers who were preparing to deploy to Iraq on November 5, 2009.
In addition to the 13 killed, 32 were wounded, and Hasan, 42, is paralyzed from the chest down from gunshots fired by two civilian Fort Hood police officers who ended what was the worst shooting at a U.S. military installation.
The defense requested the trial delay because recent media reports about the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings have mentioned Hasan.
"Media coverage was saturated again," Lieutenant Colonel Kris Poppe, the lead defense lawyer, told the judge. "The comparisons are striking and troubling."
But Colonel Steve Henricks, one of the prosecutors, said prominent stories about the Boston bombings had only mentioned Hasan briefly, and Osborn said: "How do we know that nothing else will happen between now and the time of the trial that will bring this case to public attention again?"
Osborn previously denied a request by Hasan's lawyers that the death penalty be removed from consideration in return for a guilty plea. The Uniform Code of Military Justice, the unique law code that governs the armed forces, does not allow a guilty plea to a capital charge.
"The evidence is overwhelming, so the defense has always concentrated on two things: How can we delay this trial and how can we get a reduced sentence?" said Jeffrey Addicott, a former legal adviser to the Army Special Forces and a professor of law at St. Mary's University in Texas.
"The defense is hoping that the more time that goes by, they can just get the government to throw up their hands in frustration and say, OK, we'll just accept a guilty plea."
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.
Opening arguments in the trial are expected to begin on July 1. Security is being ramped up at Fort Hood's Lawrence J. Williams Courthouse in preparation for the trial. Officials have placed bullet-proof sand-and-fiber barriers close to the building.
Fort Hood is a 340-square-mile (880-square-km) Army post located about 60 miles north of Austin, Texas.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Scott Malone, Mohammad Zargham and Andre Grenon)