FORT HOOD –– A military judge on Wednesday ruled that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is mentally able to present his own defense, but she questioned whether the mass shooting suspect is physically able to represent himself in his trial.
Col. Tara Osborn ordered accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to undergo a physical, perhaps as early as today, to determine his physical condition. His last exam happened in June 2012. The judge refused to rule on whether to allow Hasan to represent himself until she learns his physical condition.
Hasan faces 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 charges of attempted murder in the deadly shooting spree on Nov. 5, 2009.
Maj. Nidal Hasan, wearing his Army combat uniform and sporting a bushy black-and-gray beard, was wheeled into the courtroom minutes before the pre-trial hearing began at 9 a.m.
The defendant appeared thin and sickly, though he spoke clearly to the judge. The courthouse is more heavily fortified than at any time before.
Gray shipping containers are stacked two and three high around the perimeter of the courthouse. Soldiers stand guard with automatic rifles. Inside the walls of shipping containers are large, brown containers of dirt, stationed mere feet away from the building.
In addition, reporters walking towards the courthouse underwent an extra layer of security by soldiers who used wands to check for metal objects.
Hasan was more active than at previous proceedings as he looked through folders and examined papers on the defense table. He also spoke more than ever before in a polite and clear tone to the military judge, Col. Tara Osborn.
“You no longer want Col. [Kris] Poppe to represent you?” the judge asked.
“That’s correct,” Maj. Hasan replied.
“Representing yourself is a much more taxing enterprise, physically, than just sitting there,” Col. Osborn said.
“Yes, I understand that,” Maj. Hasan added.
Hasan cannot sit for more than five hours at a time, his attorneys told the judge.
“I’m concerned about your physical limitations,” the judge continued. “Are you a paraplegic?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Hasan said.
A police officer shot and paralyzed him after the shooting massacre on post.
“I understand you’re a medical doctor, but I want to explore your physical health,” the judge explained.
Hasan’s last physical happened in June 2012.
He said he does not take any regular medications except for Tylenol.
The judge ordered Hasan to undergo a physical before Friday and wants the attending physician to present his or her findings at a hearing on Monday morning before she rules on whether to let Hasan ditch his defense attorneys.
“We stand here now with a client who has told the court he does not want our representation,” said Col. Kris Poppe, Hasan’s military attorney. “It puts us in an awkward circumstance pending the court’s finding."
"I understand," the judge said.
If Osborn allows Hasan to represent himself, he will be able to question potential panelists, the military equivalent to a jury.
“That’s going to be unique,” said Ret. Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, a former lead defense attorney in the U.S. Marine Corps. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that in a military trial.”
Vokey has defended numerous clients, including Omar Khadr, a former Guantanamo detainee who accepted a plea agreement for killing an American soldier.
Jury selection in Hasan’s case begins next Wednesday and his trial is scheduled to start July 1.
Reporter Jason Whitely is among a handful of journalists the U.S. Army selected to be in the courtroom during today’s hearing. Remaining journalists will watch the proceedings on a closed circuit TV feed in an adjacent building.