Nidal Hasan (Bell County Sheriff's Department via AP)
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FORT HOOD, TEXAS — A report shows that the Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage has the mental capacity to represent himself at his murder trial, but more information is needed about his physical condition, a judge said Wednesday in delaying the suspect’s request.
At a pretrial hearing, Maj. Nidal Hasan did not say why he wants to cut ties with his attorneys, a request he suddenly made last week. If granted, he could come face-to-face with and question the nearly three dozen soldiers he’s accused of wounding in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack on the Texas Army post.
The military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, said she won’t decide on Hasan’s request until his doctor examines him and testifies at a hearing Monday. Hasan is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the rampage.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. Military law allows defendants to represent themselves.
It’s unclear if Monday’s hearing will delay jury selection that’s set for next week. It is expected to last about four weeks, with testimony in the court-martial starting in July.
In late 2010, a three-person board of military medical professionals conducted a mental evaluation of Hasan after reviewing documents in the case. They determined whether Hasan had a severe mental illness at the time of the shooting, and if so, his clinical psychological diagnosis; whether that prevented him from knowing at the time that his alleged actions were wrong; and if he was competent to stand trial.
The findings of the report have never been released. Osborn referred to the report Wednesday, saying it showed that Hasan has the sufficient mental competency to understand legal proceedings and can represent himself or assist in his defense.
But she spent most of the 30-minute hearing questioning Hasan about his medical issues. Hasan said his last doctor’s exam was in June, and since then, jail nursing staff take care of his medical needs. He said the only medicine he takes is over-the-counter painkillers periodically.
He had refused to be examined at Fort Hood’s hospital because of concerns that one particular doctor would be biased, but then withdrew his objections Wednesday after another doctor was chosen to do the exam.
John Galligan, Hasan’s former lead attorney before his client dismissed him two years ago, said Hasan has no physical limitations that would prevent him from representing himself. Hasan seems to have full use of his arms and can roll his own wheelchair. Hasan uses a catheter but does not require more frequent or lengthier breaks than usual during a trial, Galligan said.
If she approves his request, Osborn is expected to ask Hasan’s attorneys to stay throughout the trial in case he asks for their help.