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Hearing delayed in Ft. Hood shooting case

A tightly secured military hearing for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in a shooting rampage here last November, ground to an abrupt halt Tuesday when Hasan’s lawyers were granted a 24-hour continuance.

The hearing, held to determine whether Hasan should face a court-martial, was scheduled to begin calling witnesses but was delayed by scheduling and procedural disputes.

Lt. Col. Kris R. Poppe, one of Hasan’s military lawyers, avoided revealing details of the contested issues in open court and instead was granted permission to put his motion in writing. The hearing will resume Wednesday.

“We’re not operating on a time limit or clock,” said Col. James L. Pohl, a military judge serving as the hearing’s investigating officer.

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“We’ve got to protect everybody’s rights,” said Pohl, referring to the defendant’s right to a fair trial and the public’s right to know.

Pohl said he would hear arguments Wednesday on a defense request to postpone the hearing until Nov. 8. He has denied defense requests to close portions of the hearing to the public and news media.

The hearing, held less than four miles from where Hasan is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32 others, opened under heavy security. Everyone entering the tiny courtroom went through metal detectors, and soldiers and military guard dogs searched arriving vehicles.

Fences draped with green cloth were set up to prevent photographers from taking photos of Hasan. Paralyzed from the chest down by police gunfire during the Nov. 5 shootings, Hasan is in a wheelchair.

The proceeding, known as an Article 32 hearing, is similar to a civilian preliminary hearing. Both the prosecution and defense may present evidence, as well as call and cross-examine witnesses.

Pohl has said he wants to hear testimony from all 32 wounded victims, who are expected to describe the shootings in detail and identify Hasan as the gunman. Typically, such hearings involve testimony from only a few key witnesses.

Hasan, 40, who witnesses said shouted “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great” — before the shootings, is accused of firing at least 100 rounds from two handguns. The attack, which took place at a base processing center for soldiers preparing to deploy overseas, was the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base.

Last week, Hasan refused to submit to a psychiatric evaluation by military doctors. His civilian attorney, retired Army Col. John Galligan, said that neither the defense nor the military doctors had been provided with all relevant information about his mental state. The defense would consider an evaluation but only by independent psychiatrists.

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An insanity defense is permitted under military law, but Galligan has not indicated whether he is considering it. Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty if the case goes to a court-martial.

david.zucchino@latimes.com


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