KILLEEN, Texas — The court-martial of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of carrying out the 2009 mass shootings at Fort Hood, was suspended Wednesday after a lawyer accused the defendant of deliberately trying to secure a death sentence.
Hasan, who faces 13 counts of murder and 32 of attempted murder, is representing himself at the trial on the same Army post in central Texas where the killings took place.
Hasan twice dismissed his legal team, but he does have three standby defense lawyers on hand to offer him legal advice if he requests it. And Wednesday morning, one of them, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, offered to step in and represent Hasan.
Poppe told the military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, that it is “clear [Hasan’s] goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is working toward a death penalty.”
Poppe asked that his own responsibilities be minimized if Hasan insisted on continuing to seek his own execution, saying the defendant was acting in a way that “we believe is repugnant to defense counsel and contrary to our professional obligations,” according to wire reports.
“I object. That’s a twist of the facts,” Hasan responded. He repeatedly asked the judge for permission to explain why Poppe’s claim was wrong, but refused to do so in writing.
Osborn then cleared the courtroom to discuss the matter, and no witnesses will be called for the rest of the day.
At the opening of his court-martial Tuesday, Hasan, who worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington from 2003 to 2006, admitted responsibility for the attacks. “The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter,” he said.
Hasan said he carried out the shootings, which prosecutors said deliberately targeted uniformed personnel and spared civilians, because he believed he was on the wrong side of a war against Islam and wanted to switch sides.
Hasan, a 42-year-old U.S.-born Muslim who is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by an Army police officer during the rampage, appeared to show little interest in defending himself on the first day of his trial.
Hasan has previously sought to plead guilty but is not able to do so under military rules governing cases that carry a potential death penalty. At earlier hearings, the judge also ruled that he could not defend himself by arguing that he was seeking to save the lives of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.
The court-martial, which is taking place nearly four years after the shootings, has been delayed by lengthy legal arguments and requests from Hasan. He has been allowed to keep his beard, which is against military regulations, after arguing that it was an expression of his Muslim faith.
Executions are rare in the military justice system; the last one was carried out in 1961.