FORT HOOD — The death penalty remains a possible sentence for the Fort Hood soldier accused of killing 13 on post, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Judge Col. Tara Osborn ruled a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a previous capital murder court-martial at Fort Hood applied to the upcoming trial for accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan.
The defense had argued procedures that led a Fort Hood commander to authorize a capital murder trial violated the Constitution.
Osborn ruled that the 1996 Supreme Court case involving former Fort Hood soldier and convicted murderer Dwight J. Loving had already decided that death penalty court-martials were constitutional.
Loving has been sitting on death row since 1989, when a court-martial on post resulted in a death penalty sentence for killing two taxi drivers in Killeen.
Osborn’s ruling was the first of several defense requests denied Wednesday.
Hasan’s defense team asked Osborn to grant an injunction preventing the military from shaving a beard the 42-year-old Army psychiatrist claims to have grown for religious reasons.
Osborn essentially punted on the matter, ruling the court had no jurisdiction or authority to order or prevent Hasan’s chain of command from shaving him.
The thorny issue had led to an appeals court’s decision to dismiss the previous judge from the case for the appearance of bias.
That judge, Col. Gregory Gross, had repeatedly barred Hasan from court and found him in contempt for breaking military appearance regulations by appearing in court with the beard.
Because of possible bias, the defense has requested Osborn review several of Gross’ rulings.
Before adjourning for the day, Osborn asked defense counsel to review the motions litigated last summer during hearings in which Hasan was not in court.
The defense team will provide a list of those motions in early February. Lawyers also have been asked to provide a realistic timeline for when they think Hasan’s court-martial can begin.
Hasan’s lawyer signaled that he intends to plead guilty to many of the charges against him.
They have filed a letter to the court stating as much, and the defense team initially sought to challenge a military justice rule that prevents a judge from accepting a guilty plea to a capital offense.
They withdrew that motion Wednesday and told Osborn that Hasan will likely plead guilty to 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder and the lesser charges included within 13 counts of premeditated murder.
Osborn could accept those pleas, but not any plea of guilty to a capital charge carrying the possibility of the death penalty.
The judge ruled against requests for a victims outreach coordinator who would have been a liaison between the defense and victims’ families.
She also denied a request for the government to pay for a media analysis expert who would have examined the impact of more than 20,000 articles that have mentioned Hasan since he was named the suspect in the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting on post.
“(Media coverage) has been inflammatory and exceedingly negative towards Maj. Hasan,” lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe argued.
The next pretrial hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 27, and will likely last at least two days.
Lawyers will argue over defense motions on how aggravating circumstances for sentencing can be presented and the testimony of a prosecution witness who has called Hasan a “homegrown terrorist.”
They also will argue over whether the trial should be moved to a new location.
Osborn and the prosecution hinted that a venue change would likely not be necessary, since members of the jury will be pulled from around the nation.
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