The U.S. Army Judiciary has named a new judge for the upcoming court-martial of accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan.
An Army spokesman confirmed Tuesday night that Col. Tara Osborn has been named to the case. Osborn is the current chief circuit judge of the Army’s Second Judicial District.
The appointment comes just one day after the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ousted Fort Hood judge Col. Gregory Gross from Hasan’s case and vacated his order to have Hasan forcibly shaved.
The court stated that Gross’ impartiality could be called into question because of the order, his repeated rulings of contempt and his presence on Fort Hood during the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting.
Osborn is assigned to the military court at Fort Bragg, N.C. The court hears cases involving soldiers assigned to that post, Fort Jackson and Shaw Air Force Base.
The appointment could signal that proceedings in the case may begin moving forward. Army spokesman Maj. Stephen Justin Platt was unable to provide any timeframe as to when Osborn may arrive on post and when the hearing may begin.
Hasan’s trial has been held up in appeals since it was slated to begin a little more than three months ago. The 42-year-old Army psychiatrist was set to enter pleadings in his case when a ruling placed the court-martial on hold.
All legal wranglings since have revolved around Hasan’s decision to grow a beard. He has stated that he is defying military appearance regulations because of his Islamic faith and a premonition that he will die soon.
He could face the death penalty if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder. He also has been charged with 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
Leading up to the trial, Gross held Hasan in contempt for appearing in the courtroom with a beard six times. He repeatedly ordered Hasan to shave and fined the major $1,000 at each appearance.
The judge then removed Hasan from the courtroom, allowing him to view his court hearings on closed-circuit television from a trailer placed near the Fort Hood courthouse.
As the trial approached, Gross told counsel that removing Hasan from the courtroom during his trial could create appeal scenarios, should he be convicted. He then signalled that he would have Hasan shaved when his trial began.
The armed forces appeals court intervened, stating that any order that Hasan be shaved needed to be reviewed by the judges. On Monday, the court made no ruling on the order, stating it would review it should the new judge take up the beard issue.
The court stated that Gross never should have addressed Hasan’s beard, instead leaving any order or decision up to Hasan’s chain of command.
Hasan has sought an exemption to military regulations, which was denied by his immediate chain of command and Army officials at the Pentagon.
A dissenting opinion from the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals stated that the judge could hold the government in contempt for not enforcing the regulation, but should not hold Hasan in contempt.
Or, the judge could ignore the beard entirely by issuing an instruction to jurors, telling them to not make any judgment based on Hasan’s refusal to abide by military regulations.
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