Fort Hood suspect must enter pleas before trial

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly Fort Hood shooting rampage must enter pleas in the case before his trial begins next week, the judge said Tuesday after refusing to delay the start of jury selection.

Maj. Nidal Hasan will have a Wednesday hearing, where he must plead not guilty to the 13 counts of premeditated murder he currently faces in the 2009 attack. He is not allowed to plead guilty because the charges carry death as the maximum punishment, and the government is pursuing the death penalty in Hasan’s case.

He also is charged with 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the attack at the Texas Army post. He is allowed to plead guilty to those charges but seems unlikely to do so, said John Galligan, a civilian attorney who represented Hasan before leaving the defense team a year ago. Military prosecutors and defense attorneys are barred from discussing the case outside court.

Hasan also would be allowed to plead guilty to lesser murder charges that do not carry the death penalty. But that scenario is highly unlikely because efforts to reach a plea deal failed more than a year ago, and plea agreements in such cases usually are not reached at the last minute, Galligan said.

The military criminal justice system does not have a set time for a defendant to enter a plea; some do it the day of the trial.

Prosecutors also are unlikely to agree to a plea deal now because “they’ve done all this work on the case that’s the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9-11,” said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law. He is not involved in the Hasan case.

Prosecutors have 265-person witness list for Hasan’s trial, including a terrorism consultant who says the American-born Muslim meets several factors indicating he’s a home-grown terrorist.

The judge, Col. Gregory Gross, refused to delay Hasan’s plea until Friday. The defense team said that before entering any pleas, Hasan wanted to talk to “his most trusted living relative” who could not arrive in the area until Thursday. But Gross said the defense had plenty of time to prepare.

Gross also refused defense attorneys’ request to delay the start of the trial again and said it would begin with jury selection as scheduled Monday. He previously delayed the trial from March to June and then to August.

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