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2013-03-14

Hasan trial set to begin in May

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Another court martial date has finally been set for United States Army Major Nidal Hasan, 42, charged with the worst mass shooting to take place on a US military installation.
During a pretrial hearing held Feb. 28 at Fort Hood, located near Killeen, Army Col. Tara Osborn, presiding judge in United States vs. Maj. Nidal Hasan, set the date for May 29. Osborn anticipated four weeks of jury selection.
Originally set for March 2012, the trial had been postponed to June and then August. At that time, Hasan's non-regulation beard apparently saved the day for him.
A week prior to the trial, former Judge Col. Gregory Gross had issued an order to have Hasan forcibly shaved. In turn, Hasan's defense attorneys successfully appealed the order, arguing that Gross was prejudiced against their client. Citing his Muslim faith, Hasan had grown scraggly facial hair since his incarceration. He was clean-shaven when arrested as the lone shooter in a 2009 attack in which 13 people were killed and another 32 wounded.
Osborn, who replaced Gross, has wisely chosen not to address Hasan's beard.
During the trial, which is expected to last approximately three months, Hasan will now presumably appear at the defense table with his beard intact.
At last month's hearing, Osborn ruled that the military's capital sentencing procedures comply with all constitutional requirements. Osborn also rejected a defense request to put in place special sentencing procedures.
According to Pipe Creek attorney Daniel MacNeil, who has a military background, the defense's request regarding special sentencing procedures might have been an attempt to limit the number of witnesses testifying for the prosecution. An estimated 300 witnesses are expected to be called.
"It's usually the case that with a great number of witnesses testifying during the trial and at sentencing, the jury panel is more likely to impose a death sentence," MacNeil explained. He added, however, that while a jury would decide Hasan's fate, President Barack Obama would have to sign off on any death sentence.
Hasan faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of premeditated attempted murder that occurred during the shooting rampage that lasted about 10 minutes. If found guilty, he could face the death penalty or life without parole.
During last month's pre-trial hearing, Hasan's lead defense attorney, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, argued his client would be unable to receive a fair trial at Fort Hood because of inherent hostility and prejudice toward Hasan.
Poppe reportedly told military judge Col. Tara Osborn, "This is the worst place to have this." Poppe then requested a change of venue to Maryland, presumably to Fort Meade, an Army post located between Baltimore and Washington, DC.
Additionally, Poppe requested that the jury for Hasan's court martial be selected from the branches of the military other than the Army because of exposure to prejudicial pretrial publicity.
Osborn said she would announce her rulings on the defense motions at a later date.
The next scheduled pretrial hearing is slated for March 20. During that hearing, the defense is expected to again challenge Evan Kohlmann's testimony as an expert witness for the prosecution.
While awaiting trial, Hasan remains incarcerated in the Bell County Jail, in Belton.
Because he is still considered on active duty, he also receives an estimated $6,000 monthly salary in addition to incentive pay that could amount to an extra $15,000 annually. Formerly, Hasan served psychiatrist in the military. According to http://theweek.com, Hasan will continue to be paid until he is proven guilty and discharged from the army.
Additionally, other reports indicated that in August 2010, officials with Bank of America informed Hasan the banking institution would no longer manage his money. Since then, other banks, including the Fort Hood National Bank, also declined to serve Hasan, according to his former civilian defense attorney, John P. Galligan, a retired Army JAG colonel.
During the summer of 2011, Hasan dismissed Galligan, who was then replaced by three military lawyers at no cost to the defendant.