Accused Fort Hood gunman plans to represent self at trial

Reuters News
Posted: May 29, 2013 6:35 AM
Accused Fort Hood gunman plans to represent self at trial

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Accused Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan will ask a U.S. military court on Wednesday to rule he can represent himself at his trial this summer which could bring the death penalty on charges he killed 13 people in a 2009 shooting rampage.

Jury selection in Hasan's military trial at Fort Hood was delayed until next week after he asked the judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, to let him fire his lawyers and represent himself. The trial is scheduled to start July 1.

Hasan is accused of opening fire on a group of soldiers who were preparing to deploy to Iraq in November 2009 in the worst shooting rampage on a U.S. military post. In addition to the 13 people who died, 32 others were wounded.

Two civilian Fort Hood police officers shot Hasan, ending the rampage and leaving the Army psychiatrist paralyzed from the chest down. He faces a possible death sentence if convicted of premeditated murder.

Osborn has little choice but to grant Hasan's request to represent himself under U.S. law, which could pose problems for prosecutors and create more avenues for appeal, the military law experts said. She is likely to appoint lawyers to assist Hasan.

"It is going to prolong everything and will make everything more difficult, all throughout the process," said Victor M. Hansen, a professor at the New England School of Law in Boston and a former Army defense attorney.

Military law experts said the move could make Hasan's court martial more challenging for prosecutors and painful for witnesses who may be questioned by the man accused of wounding them, or killing their family members.

"It is hard enough for the victim of an attempted murder or the family member of someone who has been murdered, to come into a courtroom and sit across the room from a man who they are convinced did this," said Geoffrey Corn, a retired lieutenant colonel and veteran Army prosecutor.

Osborn has sought to get the trial on track after delays caused by a debate over whether Hasan, who is a Muslim, should be required to shave his beard to comply with military rules. Osborn set the issue aside and Hasan has continued to appear in court with a full beard.

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Hasan has indicated a willingness to plead guilty to the charges if prosecutors drop the death penalty. Under military law, he cannot plead guilty to a death penalty case.

Hasan has said little about what motivated the shootings, but an FBI-commissioned report in 2012 said he had exchanged emails with militant Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in the year before the attack, and witnesses said they heard him shout in Arabic "God is greatest" just before opening fire at Fort Hood.

Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

(Editing by David Bailey, Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)