Trials & Litigation

Hasan's pro se defense at trial over Fort Hood slayings raises ethical issues for standby counsel

After a decision by a military judge earlier this month that Maj. Nidal Hasan can represent himself in a looming trial over the 2009 massacre of military personnel at Fort Hood, the 42-year-old Army psychiatrist has been at odds with his fired former defense lawyers who now represent him as standby counsel.

At issue is Hasan’s expected “defense of others” strategy, based on his reported assertion that he carried out the shootings to protect Taliban leaders. Helping him pursue this apparently weak legal claim may conflict with the ethical obligations of the standby attorneys, according to the Killeen Daily Herald and the New York Times (reg. req.).

Judge Col. Tara Osborn has ordered the three-lawyer team led by Lt. Col. Kris Poppe to provide Hasan with the legal research he needs to pursue his desired defense. However, they have resisted, and the judge is expected to review sealed motions and briefing on the issue in the near future.

“I got research from the paralegal, but I wanted their opinion on which cases were best to use, which ones supported my argument,” Hasan told the judge during a Tuesday hearing. He said the standby lawyers have been resisting because “they believe I should not pursue the defense … and by assisting me they are violating an ethical line.”

Law professor Richard Rosen of Texas Tech University told the Daily Herald that standby counsel are doing the right thing by resisting unless and until the judge orders them to cooperate more fully.

“The defense makes no sense at all,” he said. “It is frivolous. We don’t have treason in the armed forces, but it would be treason. It’s absurd and I wouldn’t help out with it, either.”

Hasan is accused of slaying 13 and injuring 32 others in a shooting rampage three years ago that left the defendant himself paralyzed and in a wheelchair.

See also:

Austin Statesman (sub. req.): “Decision on trial delay on hold as Hasan attorneys threaten to quit”

Christian Science Monitor: “Nidal Hasan can represent himself at trial, raising specter of jihadist rants”

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