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Ft. Hood shooting suspect Nidal Hasan fights to save beard

HOUSTON -- An Army appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments Thursday about whether Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, accused of a 2009 shooting rampage at Ft. Hood in Texas, can wear a beard during his court-martial.

Hasan, 42, is an American-born Muslim who shaved during his time in the Army but began growing a beard in jail. He has said he believes he is close to death, and that shaving now would be a sin. Military prosecutors say Hasan grew the beard to make it more difficult for witnesses to identify him during the trial.

If convicted in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack, Hasan faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Thirteen people were killed and more than two dozen wounded in the attack at Ft. Hood, an Army post about 130 miles southwest of Dallas.

Hasan’s court-martial was initially scheduled in August, but the beard issue has delayed proceedings indefinitely. Trial judge Col. Gregory Gross has repeatedly found Hasan in contempt for continuing to wear the beard, fining him $1,000 each time he’s appeared in court with it and forcing him to view the proceedings from a nearby room via closed-circuit video.

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In September, the trial judge again ruled that Hasan’s beard is disruptive and a violation of Army grooming regulations, and ordered him forcibly shaved before his court-martial unless he shaves himself.

Hasan’s attorneys appealed, arguing that the order violates his religious rights.

The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals at Ft. Belvoir in Virginia is expected to hear oral arguments in the appeal at 1 p.m. EDT.

Hasan, who has been held about 20 miles east of Ft. Hood at Bell County Jail, will not attend the hearing, a Ft. Hood spokesman told the Los Angeles Times.

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Further, it’s unclear when the court will rule, although the decision will likely be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest appeals court within the military system.

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Join Molly on Google+ and Twitter @mollyhf. Email: molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com


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