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2012-07-12

Fort Hood shooting trial still set for August 20

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Yet another sortie in the case of United States vs. Maj. Nidal M. Hasan took place Friday, July 6, in the Lawrence J. Williams Judicial Center at Fort Hood, near Killeen.

During the half-day administrative hearing, presiding military judge Col. Gregory Gross partially granted a defense motion seeking background material on the selection of potential jury panel members. He allowed defense attorneys access to information on Fort Hood soldiers who had not been included in the jury pool. Gross also granted Major Nidal Hasan's attorneys access to a previously conducted legal review.

However, lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe will not be privy to the same information on soldiers from other Army posts that may end up in the jury pool. Apparently, Poppe took exception to the fact that of the nearly 150 soldiers - all of them field grade officers - designated as potential jurors, none were Muslim.

According to the prosecution, less than 1 percent of all prospective jurors had listed Islam as their religion.

The judge also denied a defense request to interview a member of the Department of the Army's Public Affairs Office concerning Vocus, commercial software used to analyze press reports.

Additionally, Gross denied defense attorneys access to the personal library of government expert Evan Kohlmann. A private sector terrorism consultant, Kohlmann, 33, has worked for the FBI and other governmental organizations.

Earlier, the judge had granted a defense motion to add an expert neurologist to Hasan's defense team at government expense.

The 41-year-old Hasan, an American-born Muslim, faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder related to a Nov. 5, 2009, armed attack at Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Center near Killeen.

A subsequent Senate report described the shooting spree as "the worst terrorist attack on US soil since September 11, 2001."

During the 10-minute incident, Sgt. Mark Todd, a civilian police officer, shot the suspect Hasan, an Army psychiatrist. Hasan was treated for his injuries at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Now paralyzed from the chest down, he faces the death penalty for his alleged attack.

The accused is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

In response to the Fort Hood shooting, Texas Senator John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, supported legislation that would award the Purple Heart to military victims of terrorist attacks occurring on US soil.

He said, "Fort Hood has long been a source of pride for all Texans, and as the community continues to heal, the heroes who put themselves in harm's way on that fateful day deserve to be recognized for their sacrifice - whether overseas or at home."

The bill, sponsored by Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, would remove the distinction between international and domestic terrorism. The bill would also require the Department of Defense to assess each case under the new parameters outlined in the legislation.

In February 2011, Cornyn and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, along with Texas Congressman John Carter, introduced the Fort Hood Victims and Families Benefits Protection Act in both the US Senate and House of Representatives. This legislation would ensure that the victims of the November 2009 attack would receive the same benefits and honors as Americans who were killed or wounded in a declared combat zone overseas.

Hasan was not present in court for last week's hearing. He continued to view legal wranglings via a closed circuit feed in a trailer adjacent to the courthouse.

Previously, Gross had ruled that Hasan would not be re-admitted to the courtroom until he was clean-shaven as required by Army regulations.

At an earlier hearing, Gross stated that by appearing in court with a beard, Hasan violated Army Regulation 670-1 and Rules for Court-Martial 804(e) (1). The judge noted that Hasan's appearance continues to disrupt court proceedings and ordered that he view court proceedings via a closed circuit feed. According to Gross, unless Hasan conformed to Army regulations or is granted an exception to policy for religious accommodation by the Department of the Army, the defendant must view proceedings outside the actual courtroom.

The Department of the Army had declined to grant Hasan a religious accommodation for the wearing of a beard. In addition, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals had refused to hear Hasan's appeal of Gross' decision to remove him from the courtroom because of the beard.

Hasan first appeared in court sporting a beard on June 8.

Although charged with "worst shooting ever to take place on an American military base," Hasan remains an officer in the US Army and continues to draw pay.

Earlier, Gross denied the defense request for a further continuance of Hasan's trial until December 2012.

The trial, originally set for March 5, then continued to June 12, will presumably begin on Monday, August 20.

During the next hearing, scheduled for 10 am, Thursday, July 12, Gross will hear arguments about a proposed written questionnaire to be sent to potential panel members before reporting for jury panel duty.