Whisker wars over, Fort Hood shooter pleads for his life
KILLEEN, TEXAS--In a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, January 30, 2013, Judge Tara Osborn considered several motions brought before her by attorneys for Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan. Judge Osborn replaces the former trial judge, Col. Gregory Gross who battled Hasan over his beard and was removed by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces for appearing to harbor bias against Hasan.
The first motion of the day challenged the Uniform Code of Military Justice's Article 45 which prevents an accused from pleading guilty to a crime that is punishable by the death penalty. Defense counsel asked that capital punishment be set aside in exchange for Hasan’s guilty plea. In military courts martial cases the defendant is not permitted to plead guilty and must be tried with the death penalty as an option for punishment. Judge Osborn denied the defense motion and, if found guilty, Hasan will face possible execution for murdering thirteen of his fellow soldiers and injuring forty-three others when he opened fire in the Fort Hood Soldier Processing Center on November 5, 2009.
Hasan’s defense attorneys argued that the process that the military uses to refer capital cases is flawed and does not follow federal legal guidelines. The defense insisted that capital punishment proceedings use an enormous amount of resources, are very lengthy, and should be avoided, if possible. The prosecution held the position that there are measures in place in military courts that protect the accused that are not available in other federal capital cases.
Next, defense counsel presented a motion requesting that the government pay for a media expert to evaluate the impact of the extensive attention of the case upon the jury pool. Defense argued that there has been a saturation of media coverage in the community that has shed a negative light on Hasan. The media expert was expected to recommend a change of venue for the accused. The prosecution argued that a media expert would not provide relevant information. Because the defense has already done some research on their own, they are capable of determining the media's impact on the community without the help of a media expert. Judge Osborn denied the motion on the basis that the jury pool would be transported to the trial from other parts of the country where media coverage has not been as extensive as in central Texas.
Next, Hasan’s defense attorneys requested government funds for providing victims’ outreach services based upon their ethical duty to reach out to the victims. The prosecution argued that the defense has no duty to assist the victims of the mass shooting and argued that victims’ outreach by the defense would push an anti-capital punishment agenda to the jury and would further traumatize the victims. Judge Osborn denied the motion for government-funded victims’ outreach.
After a break for lunch, the defense requested that the court accommodate Hasan’s prayer schedule. According to his Muslim religion he is obligated to pray five times each day. Judge Osborn agreed to adjust the court’s schedule in order to accommodate Hasan’s religious practices as long as she was provided with a schedule in advance.
Judge Osborn requested that both the defense and the prosecution review the circumstances surrounding the days that Hasan was not in court due to his beard issues and make a determination whether this matter of contention needs further review. The judge also ordered both sides to submit their recommendations setting a trial date next week.
The next pre-trial hearing was set for February 27, 2013.