FORT HOOD — Accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan will be back in court next week for extended hearings, signaling that his trial may be imminent.
Three days of pretrial hearings begin Wednesday at the Fort Hood court of visiting judge Col. Tara Osborn.
Hasan’s capital murder case has been held up for months since he came to court in defiance of military regulations wearing a beard he claimed to grow for religious purposes.
Osborn was appointed to the case after an appeals court found the previous judge showed bias against the 42-year-old U.S. Army psychiatrist. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces threw Col. Gregory Gross off the case for repeatedly holding Hasan in contempt of court and ordering the major shaved.
Osborn quickly disposed of the beard issue at her first hearing in late December, telling Hasan, “I’m not going to hold that against you, but some people on the (jury) may have issues,” she said.
Osborn has ordered Hasan’s defense team to create a jury instruction that would tell the officer panel to ignore his appearance when coming to a verdict.
On Wednesday, court-appointed attorneys for Hasan and government prosecutors will begin to relitigate a litany of pretrial motions before the court.
Those include a challenge to a military justice code that disallows a defendant to enter a guilty plea to a charge carrying the possibility of a death sentence. Hasan has been charged with 13 capital offenses — premeditated murder — for the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting on post.
Hasan’s lawyers have filed a letter stating their intention to plead guilty to those charges. The previous judge did not accept them. The court, however, could accept guilty pleas to 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
Hasan’s former attorney John Galligan said having three straight days of pre-trial Article 39(a) hearings is uncommon and likely shows Osborn’s desire to move the case to trial quickly.
“She’s obviously trying to reset the trial and be able to rule on anything that may be a carryover from Judge Gross,” Galligan said.
Osborn will hear some motions upon which Gross had already ruled. The defense will again ask for the government to pay for a media bias expert to assist them in trial and access to victims outreach services, both of which Gross previously denied.
They also will rehash arguments about the constitutionality of military courts carrying the death penalty based on the perceived conflict that the U.S. president cannot fairly command the military courts while also serving as the authority for executions.