The logjam in court proceedings for Maj. Nidal Hasan appeared to clear Tuesday morning with a newly appointed judge’s decision not to challenge Hasan’s decision to wear a beard.
Col. Tara Osborn addressed the matter at the end of her first hearing in the case against the accused shooter in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood.
Osborn noted that Hasan was in violation of military appearance regulations. She then asked Hasan several questions about his decision to grow a beard.
Hasan appeared in court with a noticeably longer, bushy, gray-and-black beard. As in previous hearings, he was dressed in an Army Combat Uniform and a green beanie.
After Hasan told the court he voluntarily and freely chose to grow a beard, Osborn did not make an order to have him shaved.
“I’m not going to hold that against you, but some people on the panel may have issues,” she said.
Osborn then requested lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe draft an instruction for the panel. It would likely tell jurors to disregard Hasan’s appearance in a decision on a verdict.
Her ruling also may eliminate the need to take up motions based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which challenged the order to have Hasan forcibly shaved, citing the free practice of religion.
Pre-trial hearings for the 42-year-old Army psychiatrist resumed Tuesday after military appeals courts halted proceedings on Sept. 21, when ousted judge Col. Gregory Gross ordered Hasan forcibly shaved.
The order eventually resulted in his removal from the case by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, on the basis that it had created a perception of bias in the case. In it’s ruling, the court stated the issue created a “battle of wills” between Gross and the defense.
On the same day of the ruling, the Army worked to appoint Osborn to the case. She is the chief circuit judge at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Tuesday’s hearing opened with the defense asking Osborn several questions to gauge whether they had any challenges to her appointment to the case.
Osborn told the defense she had very little knowledge of the case and had been exposed to minimal news reports since the Nov. 5, 2009, incident that left 13 dead and dozens injured.
Osborn said she had no exposure to any memorial services following the shooting, had not heard any comments made by President Barack Obama regarding Hasan and had not seen any of the Article 32 transcript.
After asking Osborn 25 questions, the defense told Osborn they had no objections to her presiding over the case.
Though hearings will move forward, the new judge will have to retread several issues that arose in hearings leading up to Hasan’s court-martial, which was scheduled to begin Aug. 20.
The defense told the court they had seven motions they wished to revisit because of new evidence and 14 additional motions they wished to relitigate.
Those included a request for moving the trial off Fort Hood, an objection to testimony from a terrorism expert who called Hasan a “home-grown terrorist,” and the refusal of the Army to provide evidence obtained through secret intelligence gathering methods.
The prosecution also asked the court to take up a motion on the admissibility of telephone calls and transcripts likely from Bell County Jail, where Hasan has remained since April 2010.
The judge ordered the defense to prepare a schedule based on what motions they saw as the highest priority, which will be delivered to the judge by Dec. 28.
Poppe said discovery motions concerned him the most.
Osborn said she will then decide when pre-trial hearings will take place in January.