By Philip Jankowski
Fort Hood Herald
A judge ordered the suspected Fort Hood shooter to shave his beard by the time his court-martial begins this month or else be shaved by force.
Military Judge Col. Gregory Gross held Maj. Nidal Hasan in contempt of court July 25 for again wearing a full beard his lawyers say he is growing for religious reasons.
Hasan's refusal to shave his beard, which he started growing in May, is a violation of military regulations limiting facial hair to a well-kempt mustache. Gross also fined him $1,000.
Prior to the ruling, Gross allowed the suspect in the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting on post to give reasons why he should be allowed to wear a beard. Hasan's attorneys spoke on his behalf, at first noting that Hasan has not caused any disruptions in the court, beard aside.
One of Hasan's defense attorneys, Maj. Joseph Marcee, told the court that Hasan, a devout Sunni Muslim, is observing the holy month of Ramadan. "This is a particular time of importance for Maj. Hasan."
Marcee said the choice before the court was to either violate Hasan's religious beliefs or tolerate what amounted to a nuisance. Gross ordered to end the nuisance.
The judge gave no indication as to the exact date Hasan will be shaved. He said it would happen either when a matter of critical importance comes before the court or when jury selection for his court-martial begins on Aug. 20.
It was the first time Hasan had been in the courtroom since he arrived with a beard June 9. He has watched all proceedings since then on a closed-circuit television feed in a trailer near the military court.
Hasan, a 41-year-old Army psychiatrist, appeared last week wearing a typical Army combat uniform, as he has for all previous hearings. However, the hair on his head and neck were closely cropped after receiving a haircut the day before.
When the contempt hearing concluded, Army personnel removed him from the court for the remainder of the pre-trial hearing.
Gross gave Hasan one last chance to shave voluntarily before continuing with other matters. His lawyers told the court he refused, stating it would "signify a rejection of his Muslim beliefs," Hasan's lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris R. Poppe said.
In holding Hasan in contempt, Gross said he could foresee an appeals scenario in which a conviction would be overturned because of Hasan's absence from the court.
Area defense attorneys have agreed that barring Hasan from the courtroom could be seen as violating his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accusers.
Hasan's former attorney John Galligan said Gross' decision to hold Hasan in contempt could open up another avenue for a successful appeal. The judge's decision may be seen as evidence of bias.
"He allowed a pet peeve to trump the Sixth Amendment," he said.
Hasan's government-appointed attorneys have asked for Gross to be removed from the case several times. Gross has refused.
An appeal of that decision has been filed in the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Hasan's attorneys said Gross should hold a separate trial for Hasan's refusal to follow the judge's order to shave. Gross rebuked Marcee before reading his ruling.
"You think Maj. Hasan cares if he's charged with disobeying an order if he's charged with (13) counts of capital murder and 32 counts of attempted capital murder? It makes no sense," Gross said. "For you to argue that is just ridiculous."
If convicted, Hasan could face the death penalty.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.