FORT HOOD — A judge on Tuesday once again set the start date for the trial of accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan, with jury selection now scheduled to begin July 9.
Testimony is tentatively set to start Aug. 6.
The presiding military judge gave Hasan three weeks to prepare for his death penalty court-martial despite refusing his request for a three-month delay.
Judge Col. Tara Osborn based her denial on Friday’s ruling that disallowed Hasan from presenting evidence that the Fort Hood shooting was a protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Hasan is accused of killing 13 and wounding 32 during the Nov. 5, 2009, attack and could be executed if convicted.
The 42-year-old Army psychiatrist filed motions seeking reconsideration of her ruling and asked to call an expert witness to the stand, but Osborn again ruled that Hasan’s so-called defense of others “fails as a matter of law.”
Hasan withdrew another
request for a continuance following her ruling. Osborn offered Hasan some time to prepare for his trial since he is representing himself. Hasan declined, but Osborn said the Army psychiatrist must have time to prepare for jury selection and trial.
“The court’s paramount concern is that he receives a fair trial,” Osborn said.
“It is very, very wise and unsurprising,” said Geoffrey Corn, a military law expert at the South Texas College of Law. “No judge will ever get reversed on appeal for giving a defendant more time. … Any military judge in the Army probably would have done the same thing.”
Hasan’s standby counsel also withdrew their request to be released from the case because of Friday’s ruling. Osborn clarified how they should assist Hasan, and they offered no objections.
It will take weeks and possibly more than a month for lawyers and experts to cull a panel of jurors from a group of Army officers being flown in from several locations.
Jury selection will likely require a one-week delay because of a previous commitment by Hasan’s jury expert. The expert also has been detailed to the trial of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, who will face trial for a sexual assault charge in late July at Fort Bragg.
The jury will consist of commissioned officers who outrank Hasan. The panel will have 12 members and four alternates.
Corn, a retired lieutenant colonel and former chief prosecutor for the 101st Airborne Division, said the delay will allow Hasan time to prepare for picking a jury.
“The selection of a capital jury is critically important to a case,” Corn said.
Hasan’s former attorney John Galligan, a retired colonel in private practice in Belton, said Osborn should not have denied Hasan’s original request and given the major the full three months to prepare. Galligan said not allowing Hasan’s defense has turned the court-martial into “a rubber-stamp trial.”
“The Army has him right where they want him,” Galligan said. “He can’t say anything. He’ll be convicted and he’ll be given the death sentence. It’s one big, expensive show.”
The judge also addressed security issues for the trial, noting that no specific threats had been made against Hasan, his standby counsel or prosecutors.
Osborn noted that the military courtroom, the Lawrence J. Williams Justice Center, is located on the outskirts of Fort Hood, hundreds of yards from Fort Hood Street.
“This is a capital murder trial and emotions can run high,” Osborn said.
The post increased security around the courtroom several times since the case was headed to trial last year. The building is now surrounded by temporary walls known as Hesco barriers that can withstand rocket fire.
The Army also erected an outer barrier of Conex crates, stacked three high in some places. Several security checks also have been put in place leading up to the courthouse.