June 18, 2013 / 10:36 AM / 5 years ago

Trial of accused Fort Hood gunman moved to at least August

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - The trial of a U.S. Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 will be delayed by at least a month and start in early August, a military judge ruled on Tuesday.

Major Nidal Hasan, 42, who could face the death penalty for the shooting at the Army post, has been allowed to represent himself at the trial, which will open no earlier than August 6, the judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, ruled.

Opening statements had been scheduled to begin on July 1, but the selection of Army officers for that jury, which was set for late May, was pushed back as Osborn addressed other issues. The most recent issue was Hasan’s request that he be allowed to argue he was defending the Afghan Taliban, a request she denied.

Osborn, who said she wanted a speedy trial but was more interested in a fair trial, on Tuesday set selection of the jury to start on July 9.

Osborn has been pressing to get the court martial back on track nearly four years after the November 2009 attack on a facility where soldiers were preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Thirteen people died and 32 were wounded.

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.

Hasan had asked Osborn to delay the trial three months to give him time to prepare a defense strategy and witnesses after he was allowed to represent himself, but did not pursue the time on Tuesday. Osborn asked Hasan if he would need additional time.

U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan (L) appears before the Fort Hood Chief Circuit Judge Colonel Gregory Gross with a military lawyer (R) during an arraignment as seen in this courtroom sketch, July 20, 2011. REUTERS/Pat Lopez/Pool

“I will take what the court offers,” Hasan replied.

There are several possible unresolved issues that could be addressed before the jury selection and trial begins. Among them: How will potential jurors be questioned and how will the court talk to jurors about Hasan’s beard.

A U.S.-born Muslim, Hasan says he wears a beard for religious reasons, although that violates military dress code.

Osborn decided to ignore Hasan’s beard - an issue that delayed proceedings for months and caused another judge to be removed from the case - but may need to address jurors about it.

“I suspect that a beard is not going to favorably impress a military panel,” said Gary Solis, who teaches military law at Georgetown Law School.

Osborn also ruled on the role Hasan’s former defense lawyers will play. They must assist him in legal research and procedure, but not provide legal advice as he represents himself.

The lawyers also are required to be ready to step back in as defense counsel if the court orders it or Hasan requests it.

Hasan, who was shot by civilian base police during the attack and is paralyzed from the chest down, unsuccessfully sought to argue at trial that he was protecting the Taliban from American aggression. Osborn denied a request to argue that line of defense last week.

Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer

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