Thursday, May 9, 2013

Judge again denies Hasan's motion to plead guilty

Hesco barriers, Conex boxes and traffic barriers at courthouse

Defense – 'We have become a combat outpost'

Ft. Hood – Judge Tara Osborn denied Major Abu Nidal Malik Hasan's motion to plead guilty to unpremeditated murder - for a second time.

In spite of defense arguments that it is unconstitutional to disallow such a plea, the judge cited a section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and two federal rules of criminal procedure, as well as numerous precedent cases, that preclude a guilty plea in a military murder case involving multiple killings.

Major Hasan is charged with 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted premeditated murder.

It will be up to jurors to decide if the government has proven premeditation, and if so, are there any mitigating circumstances. If they find there are none, they will be charged to assess a penalty of death.

Said the lead defense attorney, “We believe this is in the best interest of Major Hasan.”

Prosecutors countered by saying, “There is no constitutional right to plead guilty. All the arguments they have made are meaningless...”

Defense attorneys said the jury panel, which is yet to be picked, “should know Maj. Hasan's acceptance of guilt.”

When presented as a mitigating factor, according to the lead defense counsel, there would be no need for the jurors to hear testimony and see exhibits dealing with evidence such as autopsy photos of the victims, bullet trajectories and how they affected those the Major targeted, and the paths the bullets traveled in the tissues of the bodies of those killed and wounded.

“All that means nothing,” the military lawyer said. He further argued that unfair aggravation will result because of “the Court's prohibition on Major Hasan's pleading guilty.”

The lead prosecutor objected, saying, “Everything that happened in that building will become extremely relevant to that panel.”

Judge Osborn denied the motion, saying “Here the defendant is accused of killing 14 persons...I believe the accused would be admitting that he had the intent to kill each of them.”

The defense noted its objection to the ruling.

Similarly, Judge Osborn denied a defense motion to continue the trial until September 1 instead of June 1 because “A major event has occurred which changed the public perception of this trial.”

The Boston Marathon bombing, which occurred the day before the most recent pre-trial hearing on April 18, involved radical Islamic jihadists who are naturalized citizens of the U.S. Like Maj. Hasan, they became involved in a process of “self-radicalization” over a fervent faith in Islamic laws and teachings.

The attorneys cited some 2,700 articles that mentioned Maj. Hasan in connection with the tragic occurrence.

At the same time, Judge Osborn denied a motion to appoint a media specialist to interpret the impact of media coverage on the trial.

She asked, “How do you know if on the 25th of August there won't be some type of event which would make a similar impact?”

In fervent argument, the defense mentioned that, “When we started this trial with the Article 32 (evidentiary) hearings, this was a courtroom. We have become a combat outpost.”

He elaborated on his feelings as to how it will affect prospective panelists and those who are chosen.

“I challenge anyone to come up with a court martial that looks anything like this one.”

The 90 Army officers will be examined as to their attitudes toward a process of increasing religious conviction on Maj. Hasan's part, his ideas about American soldiers committing war crimes, and his correspondence with sworn enemies of the U.S. such as Imam Anwar Awlaki, who often accused the government of satanic designs before he died in a drone rocket attack, defense counsel said.

At this time, an encircling fence made of Conex shipping containers stacked three high, numerous Hesco “concertainer” barriers formed by steel mesh and cardboard liners filled with sand, and concrete traffic barriers surrounds the entire Courthouse complex on post.

Defense counselors consider it an aggravating circumstance that will prejudice the jurors.

The only message officers will interpret from the fortified appearance of the courthouse and its grounds will be, “You need to do what you need to do to protect America,” according to the lead counsel for the defense.

The questioning of prospective jurors, originally scheduled to begin on May 29, will be postponed one day for the final hearing of motions and orders before jury selection begins. “If we still have motions, we will set jury selection back one day, and another day and another...” said the judge. Citing a “flurry of motions” following her latest hearing, she said. “I don't like all these motions.”

Following four days of rest after the jury is empaneled, the jurors will begin hearing evidence and testimony.

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