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Fort Hood shooting: Long-delayed trial of Hasan set for July

June 18, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • In this file courtroom sketch, Nidal Malik Hasan, right, is seen sitting by his former defense attorneys during a hearing at Fort Hood, Texas. The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, has said the long-delayed trial into the mass shooting at the base will begin next month.
In this file courtroom sketch, Nidal Malik Hasan, right, is seen sitting… (Brigitte Woosley / AP )

HOUSTON -- After repeated delays, a military judge pushed forward with the trial of accused Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, scheduling jury selection in July for the case often stalled by Hasan’s legal maneuvering.

Hasan, 42, was most recently scheduled to stand trial in May, but jury selection was delayed after he fired his military lawyers and successfully petitioned the judge to represent himself, promising no further delays. He then requested a three-month delay to prepare.

On Tuesday, Hasan told the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, that he no longer needed extra time, and so instead of ruling on his original request, she set jury selection to start July 9, with opening statements expected no earlier than Aug. 6, according to a statement released by Ft. Hood.

TIMELINE: Ft. Hood shooting

Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who worked at the central Texas base, is charged with premeditated murder and attempted murder in connection with the 2009 shooting that left 13 dead and 32 wounded. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

He has tried to plead guilty, but his plea was repeatedly rejected by military judges as impossible under military law since his is a capital case.

Last week, Osborn also rejected Hasan’s initial defense strategy, a “defense of others” argument in which he asserted he fired at fellow soldiers to protect people in Afghanistan, specifically members of the Taliban and their spiritual leader.

Osborn on Tuesday again rejected Hasan’s “defense of others” strategy, adding that she "will not allow Hasan to present evidence or argument on such a defense,” according to the Ft. Hood statement.

It was not clear what new defense Hasan planned to pursue, or what role his former military attorneys would play in advising him. The attorneys had unsuccessfully opposed his “defense of others” argument, and they had asked the judge to remove them from the case, saying their role was unclear.

On Tuesday, Osborn attempted to clarify their role. According to the statement, “the standby counsel are required to provide Hasan with all unclassified discovery materials, attend all sessions of court, [and] be prepared to assume the role of defense counsel should the court order it or should Hasan request it. They also are to assist Hasan with legal research and procedural matters should he request their assistance.”

That satisfied the lawyers, who withdrew their request to be removed, according to the statement.

The base’s military courthouse has been fortified with two layers of added security barriers in anticipation of the trial. Osborn said Tuesday she had reviewed and sealed the trial security plans and found “there was no specific threat towards any specific person or category of persons,” according to the Ft. Hood statement.  

Repeated delays in the case have frustrated victims, some of whom have already been subpoenaed to testify. A lawyer representing 125 victims and relatives who sued the government for failing to classify the shooting as an act of terrorism told The Times that they were glad to see the military case finally heading to trial. Still, they remain skeptical.

“We’ve been through this process several times before, and there always seems to be some other issue that comes up that delays things further,” said Reed Rubinstein, a partner with the Washington-based firm Dinsmore & Shohl. “We are depending on the government and the judge to move the case forward appropriately. We unfortunately are really at their mercy.”

A military legal expert told The Times that Osborn was determined to keep the case on schedule, although it could always get bogged down again, especially with Hasan defending himself.

“She’s laid down a marker that 'you’re not running this show — I am.' There are still wild cards — the jury selection, you can never predict how long that’s going to take in a capital case,” said Geoffrey Corn, a retired lieutenant colonel and law professor at  South Texas College of Law in Houston.

“I think we’re on track now,” Corn said, “and I’d be surprised if we don’t stay pretty close to that schedule. The process is working. We’ll get going and justice will be served.”

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Twitter: @mollyhf

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