After years of delays caused by factors ranging from a change in defense counsel to a debate over a beard, the judge presiding over the trial of Ft. Hood massacre suspect Maj. Nidal Hasan Tuesday rejected additional delays and ordered that the trial move forward.
Hasan last week requested a three month delay, based on his request to present a 'defense of others' argument at his trial, claiming that he opened fire on soldiers gathered at Ft. Hood in November of 2009 to 'protect the Taliban in Afghanistan.' But Hasan today told Osborn he no longer needs the delay because she has rejected his defense 'as a matter of law,' saying there is no evidence to support an immediate threat by anyone at Ft. Hood to anyone in Afghanistan.'
Osborn ordered that the selection of officers who will make up the jury, called the 'panel' in military courts, begin July 9, and said opening arguments will begin 'no earlier than August 6.'
But Geoffrey Corn, an expert on military law at the South Texas College of Law, says now that Hasan is representing himself, the trial is not likely to proceed smoothly.
"That's going to make it a little more bumpy," he said. "He is just stumbling his way through this now, and the system, by its very nature, is going to have to respond to his foolish decisions and his ill conceived theories."
The trial was delayed in 2011 after Hasan parted ways with his civilian attorney, and again in 2012 during a debate over whether he could wear a beard in the courtroom in violation of Army grooming regulations. That question went all the way to the top military appeals court and resulted in the trial judge being removed from the case and a new judge appointed, which delayed the proceedings even more.
Osborn today also issued a written order covering the responsibilities of the three military lawyers who have been ordered to act as Hasan's "standby and advisory counsel," spelling out their duties and ordering them to "assume the role of defense counsel should the court order it or Hasan request it." The military lawyers then dropped their request to be allowed to withdraw from the case, a move which would have caused another major delay.
Hasan will continue to have his beard when he appears before the panel of Army officers who will serve as his jury. Gary Solis, who teaches military law at Georgetown Law School, says the sight of a fellow officer 'out of uniform' will be jarring to the officers.
"I suspect that a beard is not going to favorably impress a miltiary panel," Solis said.
Osborn said stepped up security at the Ft. Hood courtroom, which has been evident during the pre trial hearings, appears to be satisfactory and said she has found "no specific threat" towards any person involved in the trial.
Corn says Osborn is well aware that Hasan wants to use his trial to make a statement, and he expects more fireworks in the courtroom.
"Once the case gets going, you're going to see her really pull in the reins on him," he said. "There is going to be a limit to how much of this disruption we're going to see."