Trials & Litigation

Military judge says Hasan can choose own trial strategy, orders defense lawyers to stay on standby


A U.S. Army psychiatrist in a capital case over the 2009 shooting spree that killed 13 at Fort Hood is sabotaging his own defense in a deliberate effort to get the death penalty, a standby attorney for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan told a military judge on Wednesday at his court martial.

But the 42-year-old defendant has the right to decide for himself what trial strategy to pursue, ruled the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, on Thursday morning, after recessing the trial to consider a motion by lead defense counsel, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe. The judge also nixed a bid by the three-standby attorneys appointed for Hasan to assume a lesser role in the case. They plan to appeal, arguing that the position they have been put in violates their ethical obligations to their client, reports Fox News.

“We believe your order is causing us to violate our rules of professional conduct,” said Poppe, “assisting Maj. Hasan in eliminating obstacles to the death penalty,” reports the Nation Now page of the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.).

A defendant’s right to determine his own legal strategy is not absolute, and Hasan may find himself with little to do, acting as his own counsel, writes law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University in a column published by USA Today.

The judge has already ruled that Hasan cannot use a “defense of others” strategy based on his religious beliefs he had sought to employ and Osborn is unlikely to tolerate lengthy speeches or tirades, the law prof notes.

While Hasan and his defense counsel fight about how to conduct the trial, the self-portrayed religious martyr is in a strange synchronicity with the prosecution as he tries to explain the “why” of the murder spree at Fort Hood, Turley continues. In “a weird parallel universe,” he writes, the “prosecutors [are] trying to prove that Hasan is a murderer while Hasan will be trying to prove that he is a mujahedin.”

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Accused in Fort Hood massacre, Hasan tells jury at court-martial: ‘I am the shooter’”

Washington Post (reg. req.): “Military lawyer says Nidal Hasan is seeking death sentence”

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