Judge rules Fort Hood suspect can represent himself

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 03, 2013 6:55 PM

By Don Bolding

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. military judge ruled that accused Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan could act as his own defense lawyer, declaring on Monday he was physically and mentally fit to represent himself in a court-martial on 13 charges of first-degree murder.

Hasan, who could face the death penalty if found guilty, stands accused of shooting rampage at Fort Hood in November 2009 that also wounded more than 30 people, mostly U.S. military personnel. Civilian police officers shot Hasan four times, paralyzing him from the chest down.

On Monday, Hasan asked for a three-month postponement, saying he needs to change his defense strategy and revise his witness list. Trial judge Colonel Tara Osborn said she would consider that request at a hearing set for Tuesday.

The selection of a panel of officers for Hasan's jury was expected to begin on Wednesday, and opening arguments were scheduled for July 1.

Hasan said Monday he planned to mount a "defense of others" argument, which one military law expert said meant that Hasan was likely to say he killed the soldiers to prevent them from going to Iraq and killing Muslims.

"He will claim that these killings are justified," said Jeffrey Addicott, a former legal adviser to the Army Special Forces. "They are justified because he is defending Muslims from an immoral or illegal activity being done by the U.S. military."

Osborn previously said she believed Hasan had the mental capacity to run his own defense, but his physical condition was an issue. Hasan was capable of sitting in court a maximum of five hours a day, his defense lawyers previously said.

On Monday, a doctor who had examined Hasan testified Hasan would be able to sit for up to 12 hours a day, up to four hours at a time.

A 1975 U.S. Supreme Court ruling guarantees the right of a defendant to self-representation, but military law experts say there are exceptions, including whether the defendant is physically or mentally capable of doing so.

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The judge told Hasan that representing himself was "unwise," but she granted his request to do so. She ordered Hasan's current defense team to remain on standby in case they were needed back.

"You can't make speeches or make personal attacks," Osborn told Hasan. "If you do, your right to represent yourself can be revoked."

The FBI says Hasan exchanged e-mails with the now-dead militant Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on topics such as whether it was acceptable for Muslims to kill innocent people in a suicide attack.

(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Daniel Trotta and Bob Burgdorfer)