FORT HOOD, Texas — Less than two months before the high-profile murder trial of the Army psychiatrist charged in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage, defense attorneys Friday continued questioning the jury screening process but received access to some documents.
At the pretrial hearing, the judge, Col. Gregory Gross, gave Maj. Nidal Hasan's attorneys access to some government documents, including background information on hundreds of Fort Hood soldiers who didn't end up in the jury pool. However, Gross denied a defense request for the same information on those from other Army posts who could be eligible to be jurors.
The court-martial is to start Aug. 20 on the Texas Army post. Hasan, an American-born Muslim, faces the death penalty if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the November 2009 shootings.
Jurors must be of Hasan's rank or higher, and they will be brought from Fort Hood and Army posts across the country. Death penalty cases in the military require at least 12 jury members, more than in other cases. And unlike other trials, their verdict must be unanimous in finding guilt or assessing a sentence.
Hasan's attorneys on Friday also said they want to interview Fort Hood's commanding general and staff judge advocate separately about their initial screening process for potential jurors. Gross is allowing defense attorneys to question the officials together, but a separate interview for the staff judge advocate is being considered.
Last month, lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe called it a "highly irregular" process as the defense sought documents on all potential jurors. Army officials had already decided that the jury pool would not come from Fort Sill, Okla., as initially planned, because that fact had been publicized. Defense attorneys said that 1,133 officers were available as jurors from Fort Hood but nearly 250 more were sought from other Army posts, and Fort Hood's leader whittled the jury pool to 147 – none of them Muslims.
Prosecutors have said the screening process was done properly and that top officials used basic criteria, such as a soldier's rank and any impending deployments. Maj. Larry Downend, one of the prosecutors, said less than 1 percent of the available prospective jurors listed Islam as his or her religion.
Defense attorneys want to send a questionnaire to the jury pool and have it returned about a month before the trial, but Poppe said Friday they cannot agree with prosecutors on all the questions. The judge is to discuss that matter at a hearing next week.
Gross on Friday also denied a request to force a public affairs officer to talk to defense attorneys about how that office tracks and analyzes media reports about the Hasan case.
"A Google search would probably turn up a million stories about this trial, none of them favorable to the defense. That's not a shock," lead prosecutor Col. Michael Mulligan told the judge in urging him to deny the defense request.
Hasan was not in the courtroom again Friday because he continues refusing to shave his beard, a violation of Army regulations. Last month, Gross said Hasan would be barred from attending hearings and his trial in person unless he shaves the beard, which his attorneys have said is an expression of his faith. Hasan and one of his attorneys have watched the past three hearings on closed-circuit television in a room in a trailer just outside the courthouse.
Hasan, 41, was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the rampage. He remains jailed.