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Lawyers for Ft. Hood suspect decline to put on a defense

Attorneys at a military hearing for Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 in a shooting rampage, say the government refuses to share some evidence.

November 16, 2010|By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Ft. Hood, Texas — Lawyers for an Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people during a shooting rampage at Ft. Hood a year ago declined to put on a defense case Monday, ending a military hearing to determine whether Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan should face murder charges.

Ft. Hood's senior commander will ultimately decide whether there is enough evidence to try Hasan at a court-martial. He is accused of opening fire on soldiers Nov. 5, 2009, at a medical processing center for troops deploying to and from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hasan, 40, who was paralyzed by police gunfire and attended court in a wheelchair, is charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. He could face the death penalty.

John P. Galligan, a retired Army colonel and Hasan's civilian attorney, said he was unable to present a proper defense because the government had denied his requests for internal reports related to the shootings.

"I haven't been given the evidence I've asked for, so I'm not in a position to put on evidence," Galligan said after the two-minute hearing.

Galligan said he had requested an intelligence review of the shootings ordered by the White House, as well as Defense Department investigations. He said the government had denied him those documents, saying they are classified and privileged.

"If I sound frustrated, it's because I've been asking a long time for this stuff," Galligan said.

The defense is not required to present a case in an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a preliminary hearing. It is not unusual for defense lawyers to refrain from putting on witnesses so that they don't reveal their legal strategy.

Fifty-six prosecution witnesses, among them soldiers wounded in the attack, testified last month that a gunman shouted "Allahu Akhbar" — Arabic for "God is great" — before shooting soldiers in the crowded medical center. Several identified Hasan as the soldier who fired a laser-guided automatic pistol at wounded soldiers as they attempted to flee.

Several witnesses said Hasan, who was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan, paused only to reload. More than 200 rounds were fired in the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base.

At the hearing Monday, Hasan was asked by Col. James L. Pohl, the investigating officer, whether he wanted to make a statement. He replied softly, "No."

Both the defense and the prosecution declined to make closing statements.

Pohl, who acted as a judge in the hearing, will send his recommendations to an Army colonel who serves the as the hearing's convening authority. That officer will forward his report to Ft. Hood's senior commander, Maj. Gen. William F. Grimsley.

The military has provided no timetable for a decision, and Galligan said he did not know how long the process might take. In the meantime, Galligan said, Hasan is to be examined by psychiatrists at a military "sanity board," whose composition and timing has not yet been determined.

Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim who purportedly communicated by e-mail with an Al Qaeda operative in Yemen, has sat quietly through testimony that laid out details of an attack that ended when two Ft. Hood police officers confronted Hasan.

The officers testified that Hasan shot and wounded one of them, while the other managed to wound the shooter and place him under arrest.

In the months before the shootings, witnesses said, Hasan sought and purchased the most technically sophisticated semiautomatic pistol available. The owner of a local firing range testified that Hasan frequently practiced with the weapon, aiming at the heads of silhouette targets.

david.zucchino@latimes.com

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