FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — The trial for an Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly 2009 Fort Hood shooting has been put on hold while an appeals court considers his objections to being forcibly shaved.
Maj. Nidal Hasan had been scheduled to enter a plea Wednesday to charges in the attack at the Texas Army post, but all court proceedings were put on hold before he could do that.
According to a defense motion, Hasan indicated he wanted to plead guilty for religious reasons. Hasan, 41, is an American-born Muslim.
But the judge, Col. Gregory Gross, said he could not accept a guilty plea on the 13 charges of premeditated murder. That’s because the charges carry death as the maximum punishment and the government is pursuing the death penalty in Hasan’s case. Hasan also is charged with 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
The trial that was to start Monday will be on hold until the Army appeals court rules on Hasan’s objection to being shaved. An appeals court order issued Wednesday that put the proceedings on hold gives the judge a week to respond.
Hasan’s attorneys have said he won’t shave because the beard he has grown in violation of Army regulations is an expression of his Muslim faith. But Gross said Hasan would be forcibly shaved at some point before the trial if he didn’t shave the beard himself. He said he wants Hasan in the courtroom during the court-martial to prevent a possible appeal on the issue if he is convicted.
At the start of Tuesday’s hearing, Gross once again found Hasan in contempt of court and fined him $1,000 for disobeying orders to shave. Hasan then was taken to a nearby room to watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit television, as he has done since growing the beard in June.
Gross previously delayed Hasan’s trial from March to June and then to August. On Tuesday, he refused defense attorneys’ request to delay the start of the trial again and said it would begin with jury selection as scheduled Monday.
Prosecutors have a 265-person witness list for Hasan’s trial, including a terrorism consultant who says the American-born Muslim meets several factors indicating he’s a home-grown terrorist.