FORT HOOD, Texas — The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly Fort Hood shooting rampage was expected to plead not guilty to the charges today, less than a week before his murder trial starts, some military law experts said.
A military judge ordered a hearing today for Maj. Nidal Hasan, where he must plead not guilty to the 13 counts of premeditated murder he currently faces in the 2009 attack. He is not allowed to plead guilty because the charges carry death as the maximum punishment and the government is pursuing the death penalty in Hasan's case.
He also is charged with 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the attack at the Texas Army post. He is allowed to plead guilty to those charges but seems unlikely to do so “because there would be no benefit to him,” said John Galligan, a civilian attorney who represented Hasan before leaving the defense team a year ago. Military prosecutors and defense attorneys are barred from discussing the case outside court.
Hasan also would be allowed to plead guilty to lesser murder charges that do not carry the death penalty. But that scenario is highly unlikely because efforts to reach a plea deal failed more than a year ago, and plea agreements in such cases usually are not reached at the last minute, Galligan said.
The military criminal justice system does not have a set time for a defendant to enter a plea; some do it the day of the trial.
Prosecutors also are unlikely to agree to a plea deal now because “they've done all this work on the case that's the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11,” said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law. He is not involved in the Hasan case.
Prosecutors have a 265-person witness list for Hasan's trial, including a terrorism consultant who says the American-born Muslim meets several factors indicating he's a home-grown terrorist.
The judge, Col. Gregory Gross, on Tuesday also refused defense attorneys' request to delay the start of the trial again and said it will begin with jury selection as scheduled Monday. He previously delayed the trial from March to June and then to August.
Defense attorneys argued in their latest request that they had not been able to look through 26 boxes of documents, including thousands of pages of Hasan's medical records and jail logs — which prosecutors said they will not use during the trial.
“I'm telling you unequivocally that if we go to trial on 20 August, we will without reservation be providing ineffective counsel for Major Hasan,” defense attorney Maj. Joseph Marcee told the judge.
Defense attorneys also have said they don't know exactly what evidence obtained under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act will be presented by prosecutors at the trial. A federal judge in Waco, which has jurisdiction over the matter, has not yet ruled on the Army prosecutors' motion that asks if “certain electronic surveillance and physical searches” of Hasan were legal. The judge will suppress the evidence, as Hasan has requested, if the surveillance was not lawfully authorized or conducted, according to court documents.
At the start of Tuesday's hearing, Gross once again held Hasan in contempt of court and fined him $1,000 for refusing to shave the beard he's grown in violation of Army regulations. Hasan then was taken to a nearby room to watch the rest of the hearing on a closed-circuit television, as he's done since he first showed up in court with a beard in June.
Hasan's attorneys have said he won't shave because the beard is an expression of his Muslim faith. But Gross said Hasan will be forcibly shaved before the trial if he doesn't shave the beard himself. He said he wants Hasan in the courtroom during the court-martial to prevent a possible appeal on the issue if he is convicted.