By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - A military judge barred Maj. Nidal Hasan from a courtroom Tuesday after Hasan again appeared in court with a beard his lawyers said he grew for religious purposes.
The accused shooter in the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting at Fort Hood appeared at a pre-trial hearing June 8 sporting the full beard, prompting Col. Gregory Gross to delay the hearing because the beard violated military grooming standards.
After two guards escorted Hasan from the court, he watched Tuesday's proceedings on closed-circuit television inside a trailer adjacent to the Fort Hood courthouse.
Gross told defense attorneys he could hold Hasan in contempt and force him to shave. But Gross said he would not go that far yet.
"I'll wait for him to shave right now if he wants to come back in here," said Gross.
Citing Hasan's Islamic faith, the defense asked the Army to grant an exemption to regulations that prohibit soldiers from growing beards. Lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris R. Poppe said Hasan has had premonitions of his own death, leading the 41-year-old Army psychiatrist to a stronger adherence to his religion.
Gross was not swayed.
"His conduct is disrespectful," said the judge. "He has disobeyed an order from the court. He has disobeyed his commander."
Hasan's request for an exemption to military regulations remains under review at the Pentagon. If granted, Gross said he would allow Hasan to return to court with the beard.
For the rest of Tuesday's five-hour hearing, Hasan remained in the trailer, accompanied by a defense attorney, a paralegal and two guards.
Hasan was able to communicate with the court if he or his counsel had any questions, and Gross granted recesses when the defense asked to speak with him.
Motion to delay
Hasan's appearance could play a role in Gross' pending decision on a defense request to delay the trial until Dec. 3.
"The accused is making deliberate decisions that are causing delays," Gross said. "I'm considering all those things when I consider the motion for a continuance."
Gross is expected to rule on a later trial date by June 29.
Poppe said the defense team will not be ready by the court-martial's scheduled Aug. 20 start date because it is still receiving thousands of pages of documents pertaining to the case.
Among those were 25,000 pages from Bell County Jail. Poppe told the court jailers have been keeping detailed logs of Hasan's behavior, 24 hours a day. He argued the defense team needs to extensively examine those logs to see if Hasan may exhibit behavior characteristic of mental illness.
Poppe also argued he needed more time to learn about a government expert witness who may label Hasan a "home-grown terrorist" during the trial.
A 56-page report from noted terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann prompted the defense to file a motion to subpoena Kohlmann's entire personal library.
It was one of several motions the defense filed seeking further evidence.
One request asked for all of President Barack Obama's communications regarding Hasan's case. Another asked for any information about potential jurors' exposure to anti-Islam military courses and other information.
Prosecutors objected to the defense's requests.
"This is nothing but additional delay tactics on their part, and it should be denied," Maj. Larry Downend said.
Gross did grant a defense motion for Hasan to be examined by a neurologist. A former colleague of Hasan's raised concerns that Hasan may have a brain tumor because of a change in the shape of his head.
Gross dismissed that claim. But he granted the motion since several doctors had volunteered to examine the defendant. The exam will take one day.
The defense again asked Gross to recuse himself from the court-martial. They filed the motion early Tuesday morning, accusing Gross of "actual bias."
Gross did not litigate that motion Tuesday.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.