Judge Rules Fort Hood Shooting Suspect Can Still Defend Himself
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FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Staff Sgt. Michael Davis took cover under a desk when he realized the rapid gunfire wasn’t from a training exercise at his Texas military base. He saw blood spray, then someone else get shot. When the soldier thought it safe to flee, he stood up — but he was quickly shot in the back.
Davis recalled those few minutes Thursday during the trial of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people and injuring 32 others during a shooting rampage at Fort Hood in November 2009. When the prosecutor asked Davis to describe the rate of gunfire, he quickly hit his hand on the ledge of the witness stand.
“I still thought it was a drill, but I heard some screaming that didn’t sound like it was fake,” Davis said.
Spc. Alan Carroll said he, too, thought it a training exercise, telling jurors: “I thought it was a popgun at first.”
Carroll said was shot in the shoulder but had tried to save a more seriously wounded soldier who later died. Davis said he was able to get himself out of the building where the shooting occurred, flag down a truck and get taken to a hospital.
Hasan — who is acting as his own attorney — asked neither soldier any questions, continuing a mostly silent defense strategy that has caused tension with the standby attorneys who have been ordered to help him. They believe Hasan is trying to secure a conviction and death sentence.
The military defense lawyers had asked the judge to either let them take over the case or remove them from their advising duties. The judge denied both requests earlier Thursday, before the jury was in the courtroom, saying it was clear the lawyers simply disagreed with Hasan’s defense strategy.
But the standby attorneys were adamant and said they would appeal to a higher court.
“We believe your order is causing us to violate our rules of professional conduct,” said Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, Hasan’s lead standby defense attorney.
The exchange prompted the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, to briefly recess the trial. But the hearing later resumed to allow witness testimony. The standby attorneys were told to continue in their current duties, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether the attorneys had filed an appeal.
Several other witnesses testified Thursday, describing a bloody scene inside the Army post’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center where soldiers were preparing to deploy.
Hasan questioned none of them.
On Wednesday, Poppe told the judge that if Hasan were allowed to continue on his own, he and Hasan’s other standby attorneys wanted their roles minimized so Hasan couldn’t ask them for help with a strategy they opposed. They said they couldn’t watch Hasan fulfill a death wish.
“It becomes clear his goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is working toward a death penalty,” Poppe told the judge Wednesday. That strategy, he argued, “is repugnant to defense counsel and contrary to our professional obligations.”
Hasan gave a brief opening statement during the trial’s first day Tuesday that included claiming responsibility for the attack. He posed no questions to most witnesses and rarely spoke. On one of the few times he did talk, it was to get on the record that the alleged murder weapon was his — even though no one had asked.
Sometimes he took notes, but he mostly looked forward impassively.
The prosecutor, Col. Michael Mulligan, defended Hasan’s strategy on Thursday, saying it would have been “absurd” for Hasan to contest the facts of what happened the day of the attack.
Mulligan said Hasan appeared to be taking on a “tried and true” defense strategy of not contesting the facts but rather offering an alternative reason about why they occurred.
“I’m really perplexed as to how it’s caused such a moral dilemma,” Mulligan told the judge.
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