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Judge reviews Fort Hood suspect's jury questions

Jul. 2, 2013 - 05:28PM   |  
Nidal Hasan
Nidal Hasan (AP)
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FORT HOOD, TEXAS — The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly 2009 Fort Hood shootings can ask potential jurors if they would consider punishment other than execution for someone who killed for religious reasons, a judge said Wednesday.

Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is serving as his own attorney, also can ask potential jurors if they would consider remorse — or a lack thereof — in determining a convicted murderer’s punishment, the judge ruled. Jury selection in his court-martial is to begin July 9 and last at least four weeks.

Hasan, an American-born Muslim, faces the death penalty or life without parole if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the massacre on the Texas Army post.

At a hearing Tuesday, the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, rejected about a third of the 100-plus questions Hasan wanted to ask military jurors. Osborn read only a few of them aloud in court.

One question she rejected referred to other mass shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings. She also said Hasan can’t ask if the jury pool feels that killing 12 soldiers and a retired soldier was a “horrific act.”

Osborn threw out all of Hasan’s questions related to his “defense of others” strategy she previously barred him from using. It means that a killing was necessary to prevent the immediate harm or death of others. Hasan recently told the judge he killed U.S. troops at the Army post because they posed an imminent threat to Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.

Osborn also refused Hasan’s request for a delay to hire an attorney. Hasan said Ramsey Clark — who served as U.S. attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson and as a lawyer for the dictators Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic — offered to represent him after hearing about his proposed “defense of others” strategy.

Hasan told the judge he needed a three-day delay to talk to Clark. She said Hasan could hire a new attorney only if that person is ready by July 9. Hasan said if he couldn’t hire Clark, he would continue representing himself. The judge has told Hasan’s former attorneys to be ready to help if he asks.

Osborn noted Hasan’s request came on the eve of the trial, which already has been delayed several times.

Osborn also entered a not-guilty plea for Hasan, 42, after he refused to enter a plea.

Hasan told the judge Tuesday he earlier tried to plead guilty after his “Muslim community” told him his actions went against Islamic teachings. But he said he later came to believe his actions weren’t wrong because of the war in Afghanistan.

Under military law, a death penalty case requires a plea of not guilty. The judge previously refused to remove death as a punishment option in Hasan’s case after he asked to plead guilty.

In contrast, last month at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales pleaded guilty as charged to premeditated murder and other charges as part of a deal that removed death as a punishment option. Bales killed 16 Afghan villagers during pre-dawn raids in 2011 during his fourth deployment. A penalty-phase trial next month will determine whether Bales is sentenced to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.

Some military law experts argued that given Bales’ history with post-traumatic stress disorder, prosecutors might have been unlikely to secure a death sentence.

Associated Press writer Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

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