FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage will finally enter a plea Tuesday, just a week before jury selection begins in his court-martial.
Maj. Nidal Hasan is expected to plead not guilty. In military cases, a defendant is not asked to enter a plea until right before the trial is to start.
Hasan, 42, faces execution or life without parole if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the massacre on the Texas Army post.
Under military law, a death penalty case requires a plea of not guilty.
At previous hearings in which Hasan was represented by military defense attorneys, he indicated that he wanted to plead guilty. But Army rules prohibit a judge from accepting a guilty plea to charges that could result in a death sentence, and the judge refused to remove execution as a punishment option.
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, also denied Hasan’s request to plead guilty to lesser murder charges. She cited legal issues that could have arisen because his court-martial would have proceeded; Hasan still would have gone to trial on the premeditated murder charges, and if convicted, he still would have faced the death penalty.
If Hasan, who now serves as his own attorney, tries to plead guilty Tuesday, the judge will reject it and enter a not guilty plea for him, according to military law experts.
In contrast, last month at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales pleaded guilty as charged to premeditated murder and other charges as part of a plea deal that removed death as a punishment option. Bales murdered 16 Afghan villagers during pre-dawn raids in 2011 during his fourth deployment. A penalty-phase trial next month will determine whether Bales is sentenced to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.
Some military law experts argued that given Bales’ history with post-traumatic stress disorder, prosecutors might have been unlikely to secure a death sentence.