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Judge in Ft. Hood case says Hasan can't plead guilty

March 20, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.
Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder… (Bell County Sheriff's Department )

A military judge ruled Wednesday that an Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly 2009 shooting at Ft. Hood could not plead guilty and that the trial would stay at the Texas base, officials said.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 42, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder in connection with the rampage at the sprawling central Texas Army base, the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military installation.

The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, rejected defense requests to move the trial, to select jurors from a military branch other than the Army and to send jurors a supplemental questionnaire.

Osborn also heard arguments Wednesday to determine whether terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann would be allowed to testify for the government. She deferred her decision.

Hasan allegedly was inspired by a member of Al Qaeda in Yemen, Anwar Awlaki, an American who was later killed in a U.S. drone strike.

The judge has said she plans to start seating a jury May 29, with testimony expected to begin July 1 and last for months.

The trial was originally scheduled to start last summer but was delayed when Hasan, a Muslim, grew a beard and refused to shave for religious reasons, despite orders and fines imposed by the judge then handling the case, Col. Gregory Gross.

Gross eventually ordered Hasan to shave or be forcibly shaved, and Hasan’s attorneys appealed. In December, the top U.S. military appellate court ruled in Hasan's favor and removed Gross, whom they said had failed to remain impartial.

Gross' order that Hasan shave before trial was set aside. Osborn, appointed to replace him, has yet to rule on the beard, although she hinted at a December hearing that Hasan might be able to keep it.

Like Gross, Osborn ruled that under military law, she could not accept a guilty plea from Hasan because he faces capital charges.

If convicted, Hasan faces the death penalty or life without parole. Military commanders gave prosecutors the right to seek the death penalty shortly after Hasan was charged, although his attorneys have requested that the death penalty be removed — so far, without success.

Osborn previously ruled that the military's capital sentencing procedures comply with all constitutional requirements and declined a defense request for special sentencing.

The next hearing is scheduled for April 16.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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