FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday in the murder trial of Major Nidal Hasan who is accused of killing 13 soldiers in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage, the largest non-combat massacre on a U.S. military base.
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 at 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, an Army psychiatrist, said he opened fire at the base on November 5, 2009 to protect Muslims and the Taliban in Afghanistan from U.S. aggression. Shot and paralyzed from the chest down in the attack, he faces 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 charges of attempted premeditated murder.
The panel of at least 12 Army officers who will hear the case must be chosen from military members who outrank the accused, and must be unanimous when reaching a decision on guilt or innocence.
At a hearing before the scheduled start of jury selection, which is expected to last several weeks, Hasan told the military judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, that he had rejected former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark’s offer to represent him.
Clark, 85, who was attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson, has represented or advised a number of controversial figures, including former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.
When asked if he had decided whether Clark would represent him, Hasan told the judge, “Yes, we have decided, and no, he won‘t.”
Hasan, who has been granted permission to wear an Army camouflage uniform for medical reasons in court, also asked the judge on Tuesday for permission not to wear a uniform in court. Osborn did not rule on that request.
“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.
If he gets the death penalty, Hasan would go to the military version of Death Row, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The last court martial execution in the United States was in 1961.
Hasan could also be sentenced to life without parole, or be found guilty on lesser charges.
He has told the court he spends hours reading the Koran in his cell every day. Witnesses say he shouted in Arabic “God is greatest” while firing the gun in 2009.
Additional reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Greg McCune and Steve Orlofsky