FORT HOOD — The judge in accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan’s case set a trial date Wednesday, scheduling testimony in the capital murder court-martial to begin July 1.
Military judge Col. Tara Osborn set jury selection for May 29, giving lawyers four weeks to comb through a preselected slate of commissioned officers and choose a panel of 12 before testimony begins.
Osborn set the dates at the end of her third pretrial hearing since taking over Hasan’s case. She said she expects the trial to take 60 to 90 days.
It is the first time a date has been set for the court-martial since appeals halted hearings in August. Judges from the highest military appeals court stayed hearings to examine whether the previous judge had the right to forcibly shave a beard Hasan claimed he grew for religious reasons.
The appeals ultimately led to the former judge’s dismissal after a court found he showed an appearance of bias against Hasan. Osborn has permitted Hasan to appear in court with a beard despite Army regulations that prohibit soldiers from having facial hair beyond a well-kept mustache.
Hasan, a 42-year-old Army psychiatrist, could face the death penalty if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder. He also faces numerous attempted murder charges stemming from the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting on post.
Sitting quietly and dressed in an Army combat uniform and green beanie, Hasan spoke rarely to his military-appointed lawyers during the four-hour hearing, often stroking his beard.
Lawyers sparred over whether the trial should be moved to another post, with Hasan’s defense claiming it would be impossible to conduct a fair trial at Fort Hood.
Lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe said the fortresslike security measures the Army placed around the Fort Hood courthouse would taint any juror.
“It puts the imprint of guilt upon Maj. Hasan, that he is so dangerous he needs to be feared,” Poppe said.
The post has placed cement barricades on roads leading to the courthouse, surrounded it with about 180 Conex crates and deployed a weapons team armed with M-16s during hearings. Officials also erected multiple security checkpoints, with soldiers wanding spectators with metal detectors and surveying the underside of vehicles permitted to drive to the court.
Both sides cited the trial for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh during their arguments. Prosecutor Larry Downend told the court the Denver courthouse where McVeigh was tried had similar security measures in place.
But Poppe noted that the trial was moved from Oklahoma City because the judge ruled that the entire community would be unable to give McVeigh a fair trial. He said the same climate exists with Hasan and Fort Hood.
“Evidence shows a tangible threat,” Poppe said. “People want to kill (Hasan). We believe that to be without question.”
The prosecution argued that by selecting a panel of jurors from Army officers stationed throughout the country, a change in location was rendered moot. However, about 20 of the 140 prospective jurors are stationed at Fort Hood.
In a separate argument, Poppe suggested the judge scrap the entire jury pool and use jurors from another branch of military service.
Poppe said military law allows for officers from another military branch to sit as a jury. However, such action would be “unprecedented,” he said.
Osborn did not rule on either request.
Hasan’s next pretrial hearing is set for March 20. During that hearing, terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann will testify. The defense filed a motion to prevent him from testifying during trial. In a written report, Kohlmann called Hasan a “home-grown terrorist.”