FORT HOOD (CBSDFW.COM) — After nearly four years, the court martial of Major Nidal Hasan is underway in Fort Hood.
Hassan is accused in a shooting rampage that took the lives of 13 people and injured 32 more; he could receive the death penalty.
Today the sides are meticulously making what are in many ways is most important choice of this court martial: deciding just who will sit on the panel that weighs the fate of Maj. Hasan.
Hasan appeared in court in a wheelchair, dressed in desert camouflage fatigues. The jury – called a ‘panel’ in the military justice system – comes from a pool of officers from as far away as Italy. An initial 20 people were sworn in today, but only six will be quizzed individually, daily.
Under military law potential jurors must be of Major Hasan’s rank or higher. In a mass orientation, every panelist swore they’d heard about the November 2009 mass shootings. All but a handful admitted to having seen or heard something about the upcoming trial.
Death penalty cases require at least a dozen panel members and the verdict must be unanimous, both in finding guilt and if the death penalty is assed; otherwise he will receive life in prison.
Hasan’s beard and clothing are an issue. He’s been allowed to keep his beard even though it doesn’t comply with military code.
He told the court he accepted the fact his beard might prejudice the panel.
In a morning hearing he had also asked not to have to wear a military uniform calling it “an enemy of Islam.”
This afternoon Judge Tara Osborn ruled he had to wear the uniform and told the panel not to let the beard or uniform weigh on its decision, that the beard was for religious reasons and the uniform was for medical reasons. She also warned potential jurors not to be swayed by the intense security they went through just to get in the courtroom.
Hasan is acting as his own attorney, though two military lawyers are sitting next to him in what the judge told the panel was a “standby” capacity.
The jury selection will take weeks. It’s estimated testimony will begin next month
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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