By Karen Brooks
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Nearly four years after 13 soldiers were shot to death at Fort Hood, jury selection may begin on Tuesday in the murder trial of Major Nidal Hasan, who is accused of the largest massacre on a U.S. military base in history.
Hasan, 42, an American-born Muslim who faces the death penalty if convicted by a military panel, is mounting his own defense at his court martial in Fort Hood, an Army base near Killeen, Texas.
The case has been delayed by unusual turns including arguments over whether Hasan could keep his beard, the firing or attempted firing of two legal teams and the removal of a military judge.
Hasan has said that he opened fire at the base on November 5, 2009 to protect Muslims and the Taliban in Afghanistan from American aggression.
"Hasan seems to want to turn this into a kind of show trial where he doesn't deny committing the crime but argues it was justified," said Aitan Goelman, one of the government prosecutors in the trial of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.
The jury, a panel of at least 12 officers, must be chosen from military members who outrank the accused, and must be unanimous when it comes to a decision on guilt or innocence.
If he gets the death penalty, Hasan would go to the military version of Death Row, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. No man court martialed by the military has been executed since 1961.
He could also be sentenced to life without parole, or be found guilty on lesser charges.
The jury selection from an Army-wide pool is expected to last several weeks.
Hasan, who was shot and paralyzed from the chest down during the attack, faces 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 charges of attempted premeditated murder.
Hasan has told the court he spends hours reading the Koran in his cell every day. As he was firing the gun in 2009, witnesses say, he yelled out the Arabic words "Allahu Akbar," which translates as "God is great."
(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth; Editing by Greg McCune and Steve Orlofsky)