Complete and continuing coverage of the fatal shootings at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009

Defense Seeks Delay in Fort Hood Shooting Hearing

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is an Army mental health professional, a psychiatrist or a psychologist, who had been promoted to major in May.

    A military hearing to determine whether an Army psychiatrist should go to trial for a deadly shooting rampage at Fort Hood was abruptly adjourned Tuesday when defense attorneys asked for a nearly monthlong delay.

    The start of the Article 32 hearing involving Maj. Nidal Hasan had been stalled for more than 2 1/2 hours because of what Col. James L. Pohl, a military judge acting as the investigating officer in the case, described as scheduling issues.

    Fort Hood Shooting Hearing on Hold?

    [DFW] Fort Hood Shooting Hearing on Hold?
    Victims will have to wait until Wednesday morning to find out if the hearing for Major Nadal Hasan will be postponed. (Pat Lopez, sketch artist)

    Shortly after it began, defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe asked that the proceeding be delayed until Nov. 8 and said attorneys needed a day to explain the request in writing. Pohl adjourned the hearing until Wednesday.

    "We're not operating on a time limit or clock," Pohl said. "We've got to protect everybody's right. I've got to make a record."

    Hasan, 40, is charged with premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5 attack, which killed 13 people and wounded 32 others. It was the worst mass shooting at an American military base.

    At the military base early Tuesday, barriers blocked the front of the courthouse and soldiers stopped and searched all vehicles. Courtroom spectators passed through metal detectors, and green cloth covered fences were set up at the rear of the courthouse to prevent photographers from catching even a glimpse of Hasan as he arrived.

    Tuesday was the third time Hasan appeared in a military courtroom. He did not speak as he sat in his wheelchair wearing his Army combat uniform and a knit cap that he pulled down over his ears. Hasan was paralyzed from the chest down after being shot by Fort Hood police officers during the attack, and he has been in custody since.

    When the proceeding gets under way, Hasan is expected to be seated just a few feet from witnesses who will be asked to describe the attack to the military courtroom.

    Article 32 hearings are unique to military courts, where prosecutors and the defense can call witnesses, and both sides are able to question them and present other evidence. The hearing was expected to last three weeks.

    Pohl has said he wants to hear from all 32 injured victims but has not said why. Prosecutors usually ask only a few key witnesses to testify at such hearings. Authorities have not said whether they will seek the death penalty if the case goes to trial.

    About 300 people were in the Soldier Readiness Processing Center when a gunman jumped up on a desk, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" -- Arabic for "God is great!" -- and opened fire. Some described hiding under desks or pulling wounded soldiers out the door as the gunman fired two pistols, one a semiautomatic.

    Prosecutors quickly stopped witnesses from publicly discussing what they had seen because of the complexity of any case that qualifies for the death penalty.

    Among those expected to testify was Sgt. Kimberly Munley, who was shot in the hand and leg as she and another Fort Hood police officer engaged in a firefight with Hasan, wounding him.

    While in custody, Hasan was treated for five months at a San Antonio hospital. He has been jailed since April in Bell County, which houses military suspects for nearby Fort Hood. The military justice system does not offer bail.

    Several relatives of the victims plan to attend some of the Article 32 hearing, including Leila Hunt Willingham, whose brother died in the shootings.

    "I understand why people who were there haven't been able to talk about it, but I need to know what happened," Hunt Willingham said.