FORT HOOD, Texas – The trial for an Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly 2009 Fort Hood shooting was put on hold Wednesday by an appeals court considering 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.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, indicated he wanted to plead guilty for religious reasons, according to a defense motion. But the judge, Col. Gregory Gross, said he would not be able to 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, 41, also is charged with 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
The trial, which was scheduled to start Monday, will be on hold until the appeals court rules on Hasan's objection to being shaved. Wednesday's court order that put the proceedings on hold gives the judge a week to respond.
Hasan has grown the beard in violation of Army regulations, and Gross has not allowed him to stay in the courtroom, saying the beard is a disruption. However, the judge said he wants Hasan in the room during the the court-martial to prevent a possible appeal on the issue if he is convicted. He said Hasan would be forcibly shaved at some point before the trial if he didn't shave the beard himself.
Hasan's attorneys have said he won't shave because the beard is an expression of his Muslim faith. Hasan also has had a premonition that his death is imminent, his attorneys said.
"He does not wish to die without a beard as he believes not having a beard is a sin," one of Hasan's attorneys wrote in his appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Gross told defense attorneys at a previous hearing that no military convicts have been executed since 1961. Prosecutors have said Hasan grew the beard so that trial witnesses would have a hard time identifying him.
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.
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 first showing up in court with the beard in June.
Military prosecutors and defense attorneys are barred from discussing the case outside the courtroom. However, some military law experts not involved in the case said that if Hasan wanted to plead guilty, it was not because he has any regrets or remorse.
"He may say he was justified in killing because of his religious beliefs," said Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law.
The delay is frustrating for many involved in the case, although some victims' relatives say they have grown accustomed to waiting for the trial to start. The shooting rampage happened almost three years ago.
"I stopped holding my breath a long time ago as far as expecting to get any closure regarding the trial," said Leila Hunt Willingham, whose brother Jason Dean "J.D." Hunt was killed in the shooting.