FORT HOOD — A judge on Wednesday night prevented Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan from pleading guilty to any charges stemming from the Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood shooting.
Hasan, 42, had sent presiding judge Col. Tara Osborn a letter indicating his intent and willingness to plead guilty to all 45 charges. However, Osborn ruled at the end of an extended hearing that any admission of guilt would be against military law.
The government is seeking the death penalty in the protracted case against the Army psychiatrist. The case law in death penalty cases prevents a judge from allowing a defendant to plead guilty when execution may be at stake.
Hasan’s military-appointed defense team indicated Hasan would be willing to plead guilty to lesser charges included in the 13 capital charges of premeditated murder and all 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
Osborn flatly denied allowing Hasan to plead guilty to the lesser included charges and told the court that any guilty plea to the attempted murder charges would be essentially an admission that he had committed the other charges.
“It would be the functional equivalent to pleading guilty to a capital offense,” Osborn said.
Jury selection in Hasan’s trial is scheduled to begin May 29, followed by testimony July 1.
Leading up to the trial, defense attorneys relitigated several motions the former judge ruled against. After an appeals court removed the judge from the case, Osborn allowed Hasan’s attorney to take up some issues ruled upon last year.
The court again denied a motion to change the location of the court-martial, meaning Hasan will face trial just 2.2 miles from where he allegedly gunned down 13 people.
Osborn denied the motion at the outset of Wednesday’s hearing along with a request to dismiss a panel of 85 commissioned officers that have been preselected from across the U.S. as potential jurors.
“The presumption of prejudice only exists in extreme cases, and this is not one of them,” Osborn ruled.
Osborn told the court recent media coverage has largely been isolated to the Central Texas area and has focused on pretrial hearings and appeals rather than the shooting. The length of time between the shooting and the trial date also played a part in her ruling, she said.
The bulk of Wednesday’s hearing took up the testimony of Evan Kohlmann, a government consultant on terrorism whom the prosecution intends to call as an expert witness. Kohlmann authored a report that concludes Hasan is a “contemporary violent extremist” and a “home-grown terrorist.”
The defense questioned Kohlmann’s methods, which rely upon either six or seven “pillars” to determine if a person fits the profile of a home-grown terrorist. The criteria includes contacting known terrorists, radical sectarian ideology and viewing terrorist propaganda, he testified.
Kohlmann concluded that Hasan met all the criteria. But a defense witness later testified Kohlmann’s methods are unsound and impossible to verify.
James T. Richardson, a professor of social sciences and judicial studies, told the court that language Kohlmann used in his report was nebulous and unreliable. Richardson testified Kohlmann’s report was biased by his own methods and untestable.
“You can’t base claims on (Kohlmann’s methods) if you can’t test it,” Richardson testified. “It’s very problematic.”
After 6½ hours of testimony and argument that went line by line through Kohlmann’s 50-page report, Osborn opted to reserve her ruling.
The judge also denied a defense request to augment and resubmit a 232-question survey to potential jurors.
The next pretrial hearing is set for April 16.
Contact Philip Jankowski at email@example.com or (254) 501-7553