FORT HOOD — The ongoing process of selecting a jury for Maj. Nidal Hasan took a turn Monday, with the presiding judge asking the majority of questions to probe potential jurors’ opinions of the death penalty.
Monday marked the third day of jury selection for Hasan’s upcoming capital murder trial, which is set for Aug. 6. The Army psychiatrist could face the death penalty if convicted of 45 charges stemming from the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting at Fort Hood.
Presiding judge Col. Tara Osborn took the reins in questioning after government prosecutors challenged the inclusion of three officers to the jury. The Army brought in six officers Monday in an effort to assemble a jury of between 13 and 16 officers that will decide the verdict and possible sentence for the 42-year-old officer.
Osborn’s approach differed from her handling of jury selection last week, when the Fort Bragg, N.C., judge allowed all unopposed challenges from the prosecution to go unquestioned.
However, questions during those hearings centered on potential jurors’ opinions on Islam, the Taliban and Sharia as opposed to the officers’ views of the death penalty.
One potential juror, a colonel, said his Episcopal faith would give him “serious pause” in adjudging a death sentence.
“As a Christian, I believe we are all sinners and I question whether fallible human beings can impose death on other human beings,” he said.
Another colonel, a Southern Baptist, had given a written answer in a questionnaire indicating his opposition to the death penalty, answering that “Man cannot play God.”
In one of his few questions during the hearing, Hasan asked the colonel if he would be willing to disobey God and go against his church by assessing the death penalty.
“I will accept the judgment of God and the church if I disobey them,” the colonel replied.
A third colonel previously answered that he would apply a death sentence to any person convicted of premeditated murder. That man, a Roman Catholic, amended his answer Monday, telling the court there could be several mitigating circumstances.
He also told the court his religious view and the ideology of the Roman Catholic Church would not cause any conflict with assessing the death penalty.
“They’re OK with it,” he said.
To varying degrees, all three colonels eventually told the court they would follow the judge’s orders and remain open to the entire range of punishment. However, two said they had already formed opinions that Hasan is guilty.
Osborn made no ruling Monday. She scheduled another hearing for this morning, where she will likely announce if she will strike them from the jury pool.
No matter which way Osborn rules, it appears jury selection will conclude today. Three prospective jurors went unchallenged Monday, bringing the total to 13.