Judge orders physical exam for accused Fort Hood gunman

Reuters News
Posted: May 29, 2013 4:02 PM

By Karen Brooks and Jim Forsyth

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. military court judge on Wednesday ordered a physical exam for accused Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan before she decides whether Hasan will be allowed to represent himself at his trial this summer.

During a 40-minute pre-trial hearing at Fort Hood, Col. Tara Osborn said that a mental health evaluation showed that Hasan was mentally capable of running his own defense, but she had doubts whether he was physically able to withstand the rigors of representing himself.

She set the next hearing for Monday to give doctors time to examine Hasan, issue a report, and be ready to testify. Osborn declined to rule on any other matters until the issue of his defense was resolved.

Hasan could face the death penalty on charges he killed 13 people in a 2009 shooting rampage if convicted of premeditated murder. Jury selection in his military trial was delayed until next week after he asked the judge to let him fire his lawyers. The trial is scheduled to start July 1.

Hasan arrived in court Wednesday looking pale and drawn, wearing camouflage military fatigues, an Army green stocking cap, and a full beard and mustache. He removed the cap before the court proceedings began, revealing a shaved head.

Hasan answered questions in a soft-spoken voice, occasionally consulting with his attorneys.

He did not say why he wanted to fire the legal team.

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, leaving the Army psychiatrist paralyzed from the chest down.

Osborn said Wednesday that defending oneself is "much more taxing" than sitting there helping his defense attorneys, as it requires additional work outside the courtroom. Hasan's defense attorneys have said in previous hearings that he is only able to withstand about five hours of sitting in court per day.

The last time Hasan had a complete physical exam was in June 2012, Osborn said. An exam scheduled earlier in the month was delayed due to a lack of government funding for the doctor, Osborn said, offering no further explanation.

Hasan said he had no objection to a doctor at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center performing his exam but was adamant that it not be given by the head of the rehabilitation department, with whom he said he had a "previous experience" while he worked there.

He declined to elaborate, and Osborn did not ask for details.

Osborn told the defense team, led by Col. Kris Poppe, that they would remain Hasan's attorneys until she made her ruling.

"This is not familiar territory," Poppe said, adding that his client clearly did not want them. "Obviously, it's something we'll have to tread carefully."

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Military law experts said allowing Hasan to represent himself could make his court martial more open to appeals and more painful for the witnesses or victims he questions.

"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.

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 and Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Nick Zieminski)