FORT HOOD, Texas – The Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people during the Fort Hood shooting rampage will go on trial in June, a military judge ruled Thursday after agreeing to a three-month delay.
Attorneys for Maj. Nidal Hasan argued during a hearing at the Army post in Texas that they still lacked key evidence needed to prepare for the March trial. Prosecutors insisted defense lawyers didn't need more time, saying one defense expert was hired nearly two years ago and that he alone has already racked up about $250,000 in fees billed to the government.
The defense had asked for a July trial, but the judge settled for June 12. The trial is expected to last about two months.
Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder for the November 2009 attack at the sprawling Army post, which is about 130 miles southwest of Dallas. If convicted, he faces the death penalty. Hasan, who was arraigned in July, has not yet entered a plea.
Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, the lead defense attorney, said the defense team had received about 320,000 pages of documents from the government before December and another 60,000 pages in the past two months. Calling the volume of material "mind-boggling," he said each page has to be reviewed to decide whether it's relevant.
He also said their mitigation expert needed more time to gather extensive information on Hasan's childhood, academic and professional life, religious background, medical and mental health history and other issues. Such experts present evidence to jurors in an attempt to spare a defendant from a death sentence.
"That's why death-penalty cases take so long to go to trial," Poppe told the judge, Col. Gregory Gross, during Thursday's hearing.
But a military prosecutor, Lt. Col. Steve Henricks, noted that although a mitigation specialist is required in a death-penalty case, this expert was hired more than a year before Fort Hood's commanding general decided that Hasan would face the death penalty. Henricks also said many documents recently given to the defense have already been in the defense team's hands in other formats, and that Hasan's attorneys have crime scene data and other evidence, despite their claims to the contrary.
Before setting the new trial date, Gross questioned whether the mitigation expert had done enough since he was hired and said this case must become his top priority.
Gross also granted the defense team's earlier request for a jury consultant, but he denied a request for another expert to analyze the extensive pre-trial publicity and determine how that might influence potential jurors. The military jury will be brought from Fort Sill, Okla.
The judge didn't rule on a defense motion to force prosecutors to provide notes from meetings and conversations with President Barack Obama, the defense secretary and other high-ranking government officials after the Nov. 5, 2009, shootings. Defense attorneys said they want to determine if anything was discussed that may have unlawfully influenced Hasan's chain of command to prosecute him.
Prosecutors have insisted that no Army officers involved in the case have been influenced by higher ranking officials.
The 41-year-old Hasan remains jailed. He is paralyzed from the waist down, the result of being shot by police to end the rampage.