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Americas

Judge orders lawyers to remain on Fort Hood case

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-08-08

The judge in the trial of Fort Hood shootings suspect Nidal Hasan has ruled that he be allowed to carry on representing himself and that his legal team must continue to assist him, despite their claims he is deliberately seeking the death penalty.

The lawyers assigned to aid the defendant accused of the 2009 Fort Hood shootings must continue to support their client despite their claim he is deliberately seeking the death penalty, the judge in the case ruled Thursday.

Major Nidal Hasan, an army psychiatrist, is accused of killing 13 US soldiers and injuring more than 30 others in a deadly gun rampage at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, shortly before he and his fellow soldiers were due to be deployed to Afghanistan.

Hasan, 42, has already admitted responsibility for the killings and attempted to plead guilty at the start of the trial, but this was denied as US military law requires a not-guilty plea in cases that could result in the death penalty.

The US-born Muslim of Palestinian descent has opted to represent himself in the military trial, but has a standby team of lawyers on hand to assist him.

Hasan’s strategy ‘repugnant’

On Wednesday, however, his defence team pleaded with the judge to be allowed to take over the case as they believe Hasan is intent on securing himself the death penalty by convincing jurors to convict him.

The Observers: "I knew the shooter"

Hasan’s lead standby attorney Lieutenant Colonel Kris Poppe told the judge his team could not watch as their client attempted to fulfil a death wish.

“It becomes clear his goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is working toward a death penalty,” he said.

That strategy, he argued, “is repugnant to defence counsel and contrary to our professional obligations”.

Poppe told the judge that if the defence team were not allowed to take over the case then they would ask that they no longer be required to assist Hasan.

“[W]e request that we become truly standby counsel, that we not be ordered and forced by the court in assisting in achieving the goal of arriving at the death penalty," said Poppe.

However, military Judge Colonel Tara Osborn denied both requests on Thursday, saying the lawyers’ complaints were “nothing more than their disagreement with Major Hasan's trial strategy".

She ordered that Hasan be allowed to continue to represent himself and that his legal team continue to assist him.

The right to self-representation is guaranteed under the US Bill of Rights, but its use is extremely rare in military courts.

‘I was on the wrong side but I switched sides’

Hasan gave a brief opening statement during the trial’s first day Tuesday that included claiming responsibility for the shooting. Otherwise he rarely spoke and posed no questions to most witnesses.

On one of the few times he did talk, it was to get on the record that the alleged murder weapon was his - even though no one had asked.

Hasan, who is confined to a wheelchair after being shot by military police during the November 2009 attack, has said he shot the soldiers to try to stop what he has called a US war on Islam.

“Evidence from this trial will only show one side. I was on the wrong side but I switched sides,” he said in a roughly two minute-long opening statement.

Since the shootings, Hasan has apologised for being in the US military and helping the US response to the September 11 terrorist attacks and has attempted to renounce his US citizenship.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-08-08

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