Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hasan trial halted over death penalty allegation

Ft. Hood – More fireworks between the Fort Hood shooter and his former defense team erupted today.

The military judge cleared the courtroom to consider a motion of standby counsel alleging that Major Hasan is “working toward a death penalty” in the murder case against him.

He is charged with 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted premeditated murder in a deadly handgun attack that occurred on Nov. 5, 2009.

Hasan fired his Army lawyers in June, but agreed with Col. Tara Osborn that they should be retained as standby counsel to advise him as to legal matters.

The three lawyers have previously objected to the court's direction on ethical grounds.

After sealing the motion by standby counsel to “Modify the Role of Standby Counsel,” the judge remarked “Col. Poppe, the motion is styled as a motion to modify the role of standby counsel, but the body of the motion is concerned with privileged communication between Maj. Hasan and an expert jury consultant, and ends with an offer to withdraw as standby counsel, so it appears to be a world unto itself...”

The press gallery seated in the digital courtroom in a remote location erupted in laughter. Spectators in the courtroom itself are under a strict admonition not to display any outbursts or demonstrations of opinion on pain of ejection. Everyone in the actual courtroom remained stoically quiet and militarily courteous.

“Why did you wait until now to file this motion?” the judge asked.

“The fundamental issue became clear as to his (Hasan's) goal and his goal is to remove impedimens to the death penalty in working toward a death penalty,” Col. Kris Poppe, lead standby counsel replied. “We do hold the view that the voir dire (jury examination) was wholly inadequate.” He argued that the “multitude of issues” became “crystallized yesterday.”

“It appears to me to be a difference in not exercising a peremptory challenge,” the judge replied. Peremptory strikes of a cetrtain number of prospective jurors are allowed defendants and prosecutors for no particular reason. In this case, the judge said, the defendant could have exercised the right to dismiss a prospective juror due to his or her acceptace or agreement with the death penalty. “Some people use that as a strategy,” said Col. Osborn.

Col. Poppe continued his argument, concluding it is the desire of he and his two colleagues “that we not be ordered by the Court in assisting in the goal of arriving at the death penalty.”

In the future, the judge ruled, all motions from standby counsel must be submitted to the Court ex parte and under seal until she has had a chance to review them.

Before closing the court to all spectators, the judge did determine that the standby counsel are still willing to replace Hasan if she chooses to reinstate them as his defense team.

“We'll be ready to go at any time, should Maj. Hasan's pro se status change,” Col. Poppe replied.

Maj. Hasan insisted he wanted to proceed to the hearing immediately.

“I want to do that now,” he declared.

“Are you specifically waiving any privilege? Am I forcing you to do this?” the judge asked.

“I don't think it is what you think it is,” Hasan said, again prompting laughter among the press corps watching the proceedings on big screen televisions in an overflow digital courtroom.

“I want that in writing,” Col. Osborn said.

Hasan refused. He insisted that Col. Poppe's allegations about his working toward a death penalty are inaccurate.

The judge moved to a private hearing, then within the hour, announced that court proceedings will resume at 9 a.m. on Thursday, August 8.

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