FORT WORTH, Texas – A military judge has been thrown off the Fort Hood deadly shooting case after an appeals court found that his treatment of the suspect, including an order to have the man forcibly shaved, indicated a lack of impartiality.
It was not immediately clear what impact the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruling Monday would have on the long-delayed military trial of Maj. Nidal Hasan. The Army psychiatrist is charged with 13 counts of murder in the 2009 shooting rampage.
Hasan appealed after Col. Gregory Gross ordered that he must be clean-shaven or forcibly shaved before his military trial, which was supposed to begin three months ago. It has been on hold pending the appeals. Hasan has argued that his beard is a requirement of his Muslim faith. Facial hair violates Army regulations.
An Army appeals court upheld the shaving requirement in October, but on Monday the appeals court said the command, not the judge, is responsible for enforcing grooming standards.
Gross had repeatedly said Hasan's beard was a disruption to the court proceedings, but the military appeals court ruled there was insufficient evidence to show that was true.
"Should the next military judge find it necessary to address (Hasan's) beard, such issues should be addressed and litigated anew," judges wrote in the ruling.
Gross found Hasan in contempt of court at six pretrial hearings because of his beard and sent him to a trailer to watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit television. The appeals court's ruling also vacated the contempt of court convictions.
The court said it was not ruling on whether the judge's order violated Hasan's religious rights.
Lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe said the judge showed a bias against Hasan when he asked defense attorneys to clean up a court restroom after Gross found a medical waste bag, adult diaper and what appeared to be feces on the floor after a June hearing. Hasan, who is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police on the day of the shootings, has to wear adult diapers -- but the mess in the restroom that day was mud from a guard's boots, Poppe said.
"In light of these rulings, and the military judge's accusations regarding the latrine, it could reasonably appear to an objective observer that the military judge had allowed the proceedings to become a duel of wills between himself and (Hasan) rather than an adjudication of the serious offenses with which (Hasan) is charged," judges wrote in the ruling.
Fort Hood officials said late Monday that proceedings in the case will resume after a new judge is appointed by the Army's highest legal branch. This indicates Army prosecutors will not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted in the shootings on the Texas Army post that killed 13 people and wounded more than two dozen others.