The gunman who killed 13 people at a Texas military base in 2009 appeared in court Thursday without the beard he had fought to keep, and said he wanted to keep his lead appeals lawyer. Any change of counsel could complicate an already delayed review process.
Nidal Hasan attended the hearing at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is being held on the military death row. He no longer has the facial hair he wore during his August 2013 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death for a November 2009 rampage inside a medical readiness building at Fort Hood in Central Texas.
A Fort Hood spokesman confirmed Hasan's beard had been forcibly shaved according to military guidelines.
Nearly 18 months after his conviction, Hasan has not yet had his case reviewed by top Fort Hood officials, as required in the military criminal justice system. If Fort Hood's commanding general approves Hasan's death sentence, he would then receive two mandatory reviews by military appellate courts and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.
While he represented himself at trial, Hasan's appeals are being handled by a team led by Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, who has been named a military judge. In his new position, Poppe is subordinate to Col. Tara Osborn, Hasan's trial judge, who is now the chief trial judge of the Army.
Osborn on Thursday questioned whether Poppe could keep handling Hasan's appeals, a position that requires him to try to find mistakes with Osborn's handling of the trial.
"My concern is Maj. Hasan's defense counsel now works for the trial judge," she said.
But Hasan told Osborn after conferring with another defense lawyer privately that he wanted to keep his counsel in place.
"I do not want you to substitute someone else for Col. Poppe," said Hasan, who appeared alert in court and at one point laughed softly with his lawyers during a break.
Poppe argued he could handle both positions.
"I believe there's not even a smidgen of concern about full representation of Maj. Hasan," he said. "The two can be reconciled."
Osborn asked the prosecution and the defense to state their positions in writing by next week.
Osborn ordering Poppe off the case could create grounds for a challenge by the next attorney to lead Hasan's appeals, said Geoffrey Corn, a military law expert who teaches at South Texas College of Law.
Corn said the post-trial process for Hasan was taking much longer than a typical military case. But, he added, "That has been the unifying theme of everything in this case. Nothing has been routine."
One unordinary hiccup was Hasan's now-shaved beard. Hasan insisted on keeping the beard at trial in what he said was an expression of his Muslim faith. The judge on his case before Osborn was removed from the case by a military appeals court after he tried to order Hasan to be forcibly shaved.
Osborn allowed Hasan to keep the beard despite it violating Army grooming rules.
Fort Hood officials did not immediately respond to a request to release a new photo of Hasan.