FT. HOOD, Texas -- A military judge on Thursday ruled that the trial of accused Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan would go forward after denying a request by Hasan’s military legal advisors to modify their status.
“The court believes this is simply a matter of standby counsel disagreeing with how Maj. Hasan wishes to conduct his case,” the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, said.
Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, the lead military legal advisor to Hasan, responded by saying he and the other two advisors plan to file a writ appealing the decision to a higher military court and requested a stay of the judge’s order pending that decision as well as a modification of the advisors’ status.
“We believe your order is causing us to violate our rules of professional conduct,” Poppe said, “assisting Maj. Hasan in eliminating obstacles to the death penalty.”
Hasan, 42, is representing himself as he faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in connection with the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting at the Army base here.
Osborn grilled Poppe about his intentions, which could further delay a legal process that has stretched on for years, in part due to similar appeals to higher military courts that involved stays.
“Do you have anything in writing from your local bar or other state official saying it is unethical for you to perform the role of standby counsel” as outlined by this court, Osborn asked Poppe.
“You have asked that question,” he replied, agitated.
“What is the answer?” the judge replied, equally agitated.
“Your honor, you have received an answer -- you’re not willing to accept the answer,” Poppe said, citing the Army law of professional conduct.
Poppe said the request wasn’t about protecting his law license or future career, but rather about doing something he found morally wrong.
At a hearing on Wednesday, the military lawyers did not explicitly say they wanted to withdraw from the case but argued that a change in their status was necessary. “We stand ready to defend Maj. Hasan should he decide he stands ready to fight the death penalty,” Poppe told the judge. “However, since that does not seem to be the case, we ask that we be standy counsel and not be asked to assist him in achieving his goal.”
On Tuesday, the first day of testimony, Hasan admitted to the shooting, identified his gun in evidence and called himself an Islamic guerrilla fighter.