Massacre suspect 'must enter pleas'

Massacre suspect 'must enter pleas'

The US Army psychiatrist accused of the deadly Fort Hood shooting rampage must enter pleas in the case before his trial begins next week, a judge said.

Major Nidal Hasan will have a hearing today, where he must plead not guilty to the 13 counts of premeditated murder he currently faces over the 2009 attack at the army base in Texas.

He is not allowed to plead guilty because the charges carry death as the maximum punishment, and the US 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 base, for which he is allowed to plead guilty, but seems unlikely to do so, said John Galligan, a civilian lawyer who represented Hasan before leaving the defence team a year ago.

Military prosecutors and defence lawyers 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, Mr Galligan said.

The military criminal justice system does not have a set time for a defendant to enter a plea and some do it on the day of the trial.

Prosecutors are also 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, who is not involved in the Hasan case.

Prosecutors have a 265-strong witness list for Hasan’s trial, including a terrorism consultant who says the American-born Muslim meets several factors indicating he is a home-grown terrorist.

The judge, Col 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 tomorrow. But Judge Gross said the defence had plenty of time to prepare.

He also refused defence request to delay the start of the trial again and said it would begin with jury selection as scheduled on Monday. He previously delayed the trial from March to June and then to August.

The defence said in its latest request that it 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 lawyers also said they needed to talk to 20 new witnesses identified after receiving thousands of pages of documents in recent months.

At the start of yesterday’s hearing, Judge Gross once again held Hasan in contempt of court and fined him 1,000 dollars for refusing to shave the beard he had grown against army regulations.

Hasan was then taken to a nearby room to watch the rest of the hearing on closed-circuit television, as he has done since he first appeared in court with a beard in June.

His lawyers have said he will not shave because the beard is an expression of his Muslim faith. But Judge Gross said Hasan would be forcibly shaved at some point before the trial if he did not remove the beard himself.

He said he wanted Hasan in the courtroom during the court-martial to prevent a possible appeal on the issue if he is convicted.

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