The US Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage declined to ask potential jurors any questions on Tuesday as jury selection in his long-awaited murder trial finally began.
US Army Major Nidal Hasan, who is serving as his own attorney, did not take notes or confer with his former defense attorneys.
During the nearly two-hour proceeding with the first group of 20 potential jurors, Hasan sat quietly in his wheelchair as the judge gave preliminary instructions and read about 300 witness names to find out if any of the US Army officers knew them.
Hasan, 42, a US-born Muslim, faces execution or life in prison without parole if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
US Major Larry Downend, one of the prosecutors, asked the group if they agreed that the defendant’s choice of weapon and a motive could show premeditation. Everyone in the group nodded yes.
All officers indicated they had no moral opposition to imposing a death sentence, but also said they did not believe execution was the only punishment for someone convicted of premeditated murder.
Six potential jurors were dismissed at prosecutors’ request, based on some of their answers in court and to the lengthy jury questionnaires they turned in weeks ago. One officer said he knew one of the 13 killed on Nov. 5, 2009.
The judge, US Colonel Tara Osborn, told the group that Hasan was wearing a camouflage uniform worn by troops in combat instead of a dress uniform — usually worn by defendants in a court-martial — because it better meets his health-related needs as a paraplegic. Hasan was paralyzed from the abdomen down after being shot by police the day of the rampage.
Osborn told potential jurors not to hold his type of uniform against him.
At a hearing earlier on Tuesday, Hasan said he wanted jurors to know that he was being forced to wear a uniform that he believes represents “an enemy of Islam.”
Hasan had said he did not want to wear either military uniform.
Before jury selection began, Osborn told Hasan that she would not relay that to the jury pool, but that he could during his questioning.
Osborn also told the group that Hasan was wearing a beard for his religious beliefs and not to hold it against him.
Although facial hair violates US Army rules, Hasan started growing a beard last summer, saying it was required by his Muslim faith.
The judge said security measures at the courthouse were “for all trial participants” and told jurors not to consider that as any evidence in the case.
The one-story courthouse on the edge of the Texas Army post is surrounded by hundreds of stacked shipping containers and tall dirt and sand-filled barriers. Armed soldiers stand guard around the building.
Individual questioning of potential jurors was to start yesterday.
Groups of 20 will be brought in each week until 13 jurors are chosen for Hasan’s trial.