FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - A military judge on Thursday set May 29 for the start of jury selection in the murder trial of U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people during a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.
Judge Tara Osborn, a U.S. Army colonel, did not rule on defense requests to change the venue from Fort Hood and the pool of potential jurors from U.S. Army personnel to U.S. Navy or Air Force personnel.
Osborn set July 1 for the start of the trial. The trial, including jury selection, is expected to take up to 90 days.
Hasan has been in custody since the attack, in which 32 people were wounded. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
An independent review by a former FBI director found Hasan had exchanged emails with Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing. Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike.
Lieutenant Colonel Kris Poppe, the lead defense attorney, said the requests to change both the venue and the jury pool are a question of fairness.
“The community is saturated with information about the shootings,” Poppe said. He noted that the Army Times newspaper has had extensive and more negative coverage about the shootings, compared to the Navy and Air Force newspapers.
Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Addicott, a law professor at St. Mary’s University in Texas and a retired Army Judge Advocate General, said the requests are part of the defense strategy to delay the trial.
“This case is such a high-profile case that you can’t go to any military installation in the world where you will find a panel that has not heard about the case,” Addicott said.
Osborn was appointed late last year to succeed a judge who was removed from the case by a military appeals court. One of the reasons the court cited was the fact that the former judge had been in his office at Fort Hood at the time of the shooting.
Last year, the case was delayed for several months while Army appeals courts considered whether Hasan, a Muslim, would be allowed to continue to have a beard in the courtroom. Army grooming regulations prohibit beards.
The appeals court that removed the previous judge from the case declined to rule on the beard question, but Osborn allowed Hasan to wear his beard during a pretrial hearing she conducted last month.
Osborn also declined to remove the death penalty from consideration, meaning Hasan will not be allowed to plead guilty, something his lawyers had indicated he was prepared to do. Guilty pleas are not allowed for capital crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Reporting by Don Bolding and Jim Forsyth; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Mary Wisniewski, Andrew Hay and Kenneth Barry