Trial in jeopardy as lawyers claim Fort Hood killer has ‘death wish’

Judge orders legal team to continue helping Major Nidal Hasan lead his own defence in military trial

The military judge in the trial of the soldier accused in the Fort Hood shooting rampage was struggling to keep it on track today after rejecting demands from assisting defence lawyers that they be allowed to wash their hands of the defendant because he appeared to have a death wish.

Nidal Hasan, a US-born Muslim, admits he killed 13 unarmed soldiers and wounded more than 30 others at the Fort Hood, Texas US Army base in November 2009. He previously told the court he “switched sides” in what he called a US war on Islam.

On just the third day of the trial, Judge Tara Osborn, an Army colonel, reaffirmed the right of Major Hasan to lead his own defence and told the lawyers appointed by the court to continue assisting him. The lawyers, who called their situation “repugnant”, vowed to appeal the ruling.

“We believe your order is causing us to violate our rules of professional conduct,” Major Hasan’s lead standby lawyer, Lt-Col Kris Poppe, told the judge after her ruling. The confusion in the courtroom at Fort Hood, on the same base where the 2009 shooting took place, may open the door to future appeals by Major Hasan which could force the government into trying the case all over again.

Major Hasan gave a brief opening statement on Tuesday, but he has since been largely silent, foregoing opportunities to object to prosecution statements or cross-examine prosecution witnesses, including survivors of the shooting.  He has acknowledged being the shooter and attempted to plead guilty. However, under US military law a not-guilty plea is required if the death penalty is being sought – as is the case here. On Wednesday, the standby defence team told the judge that Major Hasan was deliberately encouraging the jury of 13 military officers to convict him on all charges and therefore send him to death row. For that reason they no longer wanted to be part of it. “It becomes clear his goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is working toward a death penalty,” Lt- Col Poppe told the judge. That strategy, he argued, “is repugnant to defence counsel and contrary to our professional obligations”.

The confrontation between the lawyers and Judge Osborn briefly threatened to bring proceedings to a halt. “I don’t envy her. She’s on the horns of a dilemma here,” said Richard Rosen, a law professor at Texas Tech University and former military prosecutor who has been at the trial. “Whatever she does is potentially dangerous, at least from the view of an appellate court.”

After a brief recess, Judge Osborn insisted Major Hasan had the right to conduct his own defence and therefore had the final word on strategy. In doing so, she also reaffirmed the obligation of Lt-Col Poppe and his team to remain at Major Hasan’s side regardless of their discomfort over his choices. The last time the US military executed one of its own was in 1961 when a soldier was hanged for rape and attempted murder.

The lead prosecutor, Colonel Michael Mulligan, queried the motives of the standby defence team, arguing it would be “absurd” for Major Hasan to argue now that he wasn’t responsible for the killings or to contest the facts of the case. “I’m really perplexed as to how it’s caused such a moral dilemma.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media