Thursday, July 18, 2013

Judge teaches Hasan how to make opening statement, defers ruling on victim impact testimony synopses

Ft. Hood - Proceedings entered into a weird phase as the judge schooled an accused murderer on how to conduct an opening statement at his own trial.

Col. Tara Osborn admonished Maj. Abu Nidal Malik Hasan that if he chooses to make an opening statment, he must couch his words in a non-testimonial form.

“Opening statements are not evidence,” the judge said, causing some spectators to remark later that it sounded like classroom instruction for a law student.

She also told the former Army psychiatrist on trial for his life in a capital case of premeditated murder of 13 and the attempted premedtated murder of an additional 32 persons on Guy Fawkes Day, the fifth of November, 2009, that he may make his opening statement either at the beginning, or the end of the trial.

“In that role, you will be acting as an attorney. You will not be allowed to testify.”

To illustrate her concern, she instructed the bearded, ailing paraplegic, “You can say, ‘The evidence will show that I am the shooter,’ but you cannot say, ‘I am the shooter.’”

In other matters, Judge Osborn hammered out the issues regarding stipulation in a ticklish matter of production of synopses of what witnesses who will testify as victims will likely say should there be a conviction of Maj. Hasan, as charged.

The issue has long been a bone of extreme contention between government prosecutors and the Army lawyers who were to have served as defense counsel, now relegated to the role of standby counsel.

Tensions ran high as the lead prosecutor objected strenuously to having to supply the information in written form.

He emphasized that the witnesses will be prohibited from giving an opinion on the crime, on Maj. Hasan, “or the appropriate sentence.”

“There is no requirement...This is a blatant attempt to prevent the testimoy of victims. These people lost a family member. There are no surprises.”

Not good enough, according to the attorney who was to have served as the lead defense counsel.

Should the defense identify objectionable items that would likely prejudice the members of the Court Martial panel, the defense counsel - who will now be Maj. Hasan - would proceed to request an evidentiary hearing prior to offering a motion in limine to set limits on what may be said, and may not be said in the presence of the jurors.

“The real concern is what they’re going to say when they’re in the chair and asked these questions by these prosecutors.”

Both he and Maj. Hasan agreed that though the standby counsel will be obliged to help locate and produce the witnesses who will be called to offer testimony as to victim impact, interviewing and summarizing their likely testimony will be the obligation of Maj. Hasan.

Col. Osborn said she needs time to study two cases that establish conditions precedent in the matter. She reserved her judgment, and will rule on it at another hearing scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 25.

Five more prospective jurors will be kept on standby in case anything happens to upset the statutory quorum of a minimum of 13 members, the judge announced.

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