FORT HOOD, Texas – A military officer is expected to decide Thursday whether allowing the media and others to hear testimony next month from those who survived last year's shooting rampage at Fort Hood will jeopardize the suspect's right to a fair trial.
Defense attorney John Galligan said he has requested that next month's Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, be closed to the public — including the media and victims' relatives. The issue was to be addressed at a Thursday hearing where attorneys planned to discuss what documents they still need in the case.
Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5 shootings in a building on the sprawling Texas Army post.
Col. James L. Pohl, a military judge who is acting as the investigating officer in the case, has said he plans to call the 32 injured victims as witnesses during the Article 32 hearing set for Oct. 12. Then Pohl will decide if there is enough evidence for Hasan to go to trial.
Military prosecutors have not said whether they would seek the death penalty.
Galligan said testimony from nearly three dozen witnesses would create so much pretrial publicity that Hasan could not get a fair trial at Fort Hood or anywhere else. If Galligan's request is denied, he will appeal but does not plan to waive the Article 32 hearing, he said.
"An Article 32 hearing is often equated to a grand jury proceeding, and the media and the public don't have access to any grand jury proceedings in the civilian world," Galligan told The Associated Press.
Military law calls for Article 32 hearings to be open to protect the defendants, but they can be closed by the investigating officer or commander who ordered the hearing. Some are closed, but usually at the government's request.
In some hearings, only a few witnesses testify or statements are submitted instead, said Richard Stevens, an attorney who defends military cases and is not involved in Hasan's case.
"It's rare for all of the witnesses in a case to testify at an Article 32 hearing," Stevens said.
Security was heavy around the Fort Hood courthouse Thursday, as military police took bomb-sniffing dogs through the building and parking lot and visitors had to pass through metal detectors.
Thursday's hearing was to be Hasan's second appearance in a Fort Hood courtroom. At a preliminary hearing June 1, Hasan wore his Army uniform and sat solemnly in a wheelchair. He spoke only after Pohl explained certain matters, replying with a soft, "Yes, sir," when asked if he understood.
Hasan, who was paralyzed from the chest down after being shot by two Fort Hood police officers, was treated at a San Antonio military hospital until his April transfer to the Bell County Jail, which houses military suspects for nearby Fort Hood. The military justice system does not have bail for defendants.