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Fort Hood, Texas -
The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly Fort Hood shooting rampage must enter pleas in the case before his trial begins next week, the judge said on Tuesday after refusing to delay the start of jury selection.
Major Nidal Hasan will have a Wednesday hearing, where he must plead not guilty to the 13 counts of premeditated murder he currently faces in the 2009 attack. He is not allowed to plead guilty because the charges carry death as the maximum punishment, and the government is pursuing the death penalty in Hasan's case.
He also is charged with 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the attack at the Texas Army post. He is allowed to plead guilty to those charges but seems unlikely to do so, said John Galligan, a civilian attorney who represented Hasan before leaving the defence team a year ago. Military prosecutors and defence attorneys are barred from discussing the case outside court.
Hasan also would be allowed to plead guilty to lesser murder charges that do not carry the death penalty. But that scenario is highly unlikely because efforts to reach a plea deal failed more than a year ago, and plea agreements in such cases usually are not reached at the last minute, Galligan said.
The military criminal justice system does not have a set time for a defendant to enter a plea; some do it the day of the trial.
Prosecutors also are unlikely to agree to a plea deal now because “they've done all this work on the case that's the worst terrorist attack on US soil since 9-11,” said Jeff Addicott, director of the Centre for Terrorism Law at St Mary's University School of Law. He is not involved in the Hasan case.
Prosecutors have 265-person witness list for Hasan's trial, including a terrorism consultant who says the American-born Muslim meets several factors indicating he's a home-grown terrorist.
The judge, Colonel Gregory Gross, refused to delay Hasan's plea until Friday. The defence team said that before entering any pleas, Hasan wanted to talk to “his most trusted living relative” who could not arrive in the area until Thursday. But Gross said the defence had plenty of time to prepare.
Gross also refused defence attorneys' request to delay the start of the trial again and said it would begin with jury selection as scheduled Monday. He previously delayed the trial from March to June and then to August.
defence attorneys argued in their latest request that they had not been able to look through 26 boxes of documents, including thousands of pages of his medical records and jail logs - which prosecutors said they would not use during the trial. defence attorneys also said they needed to talk to 20 new witnesses identified after receiving thousands of pages of documents in recent months.
“I'm telling you unequivocally that if we go to trial on 20 August, we will without reservation be providing ineffective counsel for Major Hasan,” defence attorney Maj Joseph Marcee told the judge.
At the start of Tuesday's hearing, Gross once again held Hasan in contempt of court and fined him $1 000 for refusing to shave the beard he's grown in violation of Army regulations. Hasan then was taken to a nearby room to watch the rest of the hearing on a closed-circuit television, as he's done since he first showed up in court with a beard in June.
Hasan's attorneys have said he won't shave because the beard is an expression of his Muslim faith. But Gross said Hasan would be forcibly shaved at some point before the trial if he doesn't shave the beard himself. He said he wants Hasan in the courtroom during the court-martial to prevent a possible appeal on the issue if he is convicted. - Sapa-AP