Jurors may hear dying woman's words at Fort Hood trial

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 27, 2013 7:10 PM
Jurors may hear dying woman's words at Fort Hood trial

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Jurors in the trial of accused Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan will be allowed to hear the dying words of Private First Class Francheska Velez, who was six weeks pregnant when she was shot dead in the rampage, a military judge ruled on Thursday.

Velez, who was 21 and expecting her first child, screamed, "My baby, My baby" when she was shot during the November 2009 attack that killed 13 and wounded 32. Her words may be read to jurors, Colonel Tara Osborn ruled.

Hasan, who faces a possible death sentence if convicted of the killings at Fort Hood, did not object to the introduction of her statement. He was due to enter a plea at his next court appearance on July 2, according to a Fort Hood statement.

Hasan was likely to enter a plea of not guilty. He had expressed a desire at one point to plead guilty if the death penalty were taken off the table. That request was refused and defendants are not allowed to plead guilty to capital offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, has decided to represent himself in the court martial. Osborn has assigned military lawyers to assist him on legal research and to be prepared to step in as Hasan's defense counsel if needed.

The trial has been delayed several times to address numerous issues, including whether Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim, may wear a beard in court, against Army regulations. He has said he is wearing it for religious reasons.

More recently, the trial was delayed while Osborn determined whether Hasan, who was shot by civilian police during the rampage and is paralyzed from the chest down, was competent and physically capable of representing himself at trial.

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Hasan also unsuccessfully sought the right to argue at trial he was protecting the Taliban in Afghanistan from U.S. aggression when he opened fire at Fort Hood.

Fort Hood was a major deployment point for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Hasan himself had been preparing to leave for Afghanistan with a unit assigned to help soldiers deal with mental issues.

The selection of a panel of Army officers who will serve as the jury in the court martial is set to begin July 9. Opening statements are scheduled to begin no earlier than August 6.

(Editing by David Bailey and Cynthia Osterman)