Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fort Hood Suspect's Legal Team Asks to Be Removed from Case

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fort Hood Suspect's Legal Team Asks to Be Removed from Case

Article excerpt

KILLEEN, Texas -- On the first day of his military trial Tuesday, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan told jurors that he was the gunman responsible for a shooting rampage at the Fort Hood Army base in 2009, and that the semiautomatic handgun displayed by prosecutors was, in fact, his weapon.

Maj. Hasan, who is representing himself after releasing his Army defense lawyers, asked only a few questions of the prosecution's 12 witnesses, declining to cross-examine most of them.

On Wednesday, at the start of the trial's second day, Maj. Hasan's former lead Army defense lawyer, who sits by his side in the courtroom as his standby counsel, told the judge that Maj. Hasan's goal was to receive a death sentence, and he asked to be removed from the case because helping the defendant achieve such a goal violates his ethical obligations.

"His goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is, in fact, encouraging or working toward the death penalty," said the lawyer, Lt. Col. Kris R. Poppe.

Col. Poppe's request, made on behalf of Maj. Hasan's entire Army legal team, caused the judge to order a recess until this morning. The judge, Col. Tara A. Osborn, asked Col. Poppe why he was making the request now. He said Maj. Hasan's opening statement, as well as his conduct during jury selection -- in which Maj. Hasan asked few prospective jurors questions -- crystallized the issue and forced him to file the motion.

Maj. Hasan has been charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 others in the attack Nov. 5, 2009. If convicted, he faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole. For months, the judge and the former legal team have struggled with the lawyers' role as standby counsel. Maj. Hasan asked the judge in May to allow him to release his lawyers. The judge granted the request but ordered the lawyers to remain his standby counsel.

The lawyers had worked on his case for three years and had not only helped Maj. Hasan keep his beard -- which became a focus of his pretrial hearings -- but also persuaded a military appeals court to remove the previous judge because of an appearance of bias. After the trial began, the lawyers have assisted Maj. Hasan in a limited capacity, guiding him through the mechanics of military law but offering no advice on his defense strategies.

Col. Poppe told the judge Wednesday that having the lawyers or paralegals working for Maj. Hasan provide procedural assistance or other help would assist his goals, "which we believe are working in concert with the prosecution in achieving a death sentence. That we cannot do."

He told the judge that the lawyers stood ready to resume their defense of Maj. Hasan should he change his mind about representing himself and request that they return, or if the court ordered them to return.

Maj. …

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