SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A military judge is expected to rule on Friday on whether to grant accused Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan more time to prepare as he represents himself in a murder trial for a 2009 Texas shooting rampage that killed 13 people.
The judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, could also decide whether to order Hasan’s legal team to stay in place despite its objections as he leads his own defense - the latest wrinkle in a case that has seen myriad delays and legal tangles.
The 42-year-old Army psychiatrist is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32 others in an attack on soldiers at a readiness facility, many of whom were getting ready to deploy to Iraq.
Fort Hood was a major deployment point for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time of the shooting, and Hasan had been preparing to leave for Afghanistan with a unit assigned to help soldiers deal with mental issues.
Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim, wants to argue that he was defending the Afghan Taliban when he opened fire, and may get a ruling from Osborn on whether he will be allowed to pursue that argument at trial.
Hasan is charged with 13 counts of first-degree murder and could face the death penalty if found guilty. He was shot by civilian base police during the attack and left paralyzed from the chest down.
Earlier in June, Osborn allowed Hasan to take up his own representation. He has asked Osborn to delay the trial by three months to change his defense strategy and witness list. Opening statements in the trial are scheduled for July 1.
Osborn appointed three military lawyers to serve as standby counsel. They have said it would be unethical to advise Hasan on his proposed argument that he was protecting the Taliban and have asked Osborn not to require them to participate in that defense.
Osborn has set a goal of getting the trial schedule back on track after lengthy delays, some due to a dispute over whether Hasan should be allowed to wear a beard in the courtroom in violation of U.S. Army grooming regulations. She set that issue aside.
Jury selection for the court-martial had been set initially to begin two weeks ago, but has been delayed by the pre-trial issues. The jury will be comprised of Army officers.
Editing by Karen Brooks, Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney