FORT HOOD (AP) — A judge on Thursday was expected to issue a definitive order for the forcible beard shaving of the Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage, which could trigger yet another delay in his upcoming murder trial.
Col. Gregory Gross, who said he will issue the order this week, first will preside over a hearing to determine how a federal religious freedom law applies in Maj. Nidal Hasan's case. Witnesses for Army prosecutors and Hasan's attorneys will testify.
Beards are a violation of Army regulations, and soldiers who disobey orders to get rid of facial hair can be shaved against their will. Gross has repeatedly said that Hasan's beard, which he started growing in jail this summer, is a disruption to the court proceedings. Gross has found Hasan in contempt of court at the past six pretrial hearings since he was not clean shaven, then sent him to a nearby trailer to watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit television.
Hasan, 41, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the November 2009 attack on the Texas Army post.
Hasan told the judge last week that he grew a beard because his Muslim faith requires it, not as a show of disrespect. Hasan previously appealed after Gross said he would order him to be shaved if he did not get rid of the beard himself before the trial. Gross said he wants Hasan in the courtroom during the court-martial to prevent a possible appeal on the issue if he is convicted.
The Army has specific guidelines on forced shaving. A team of five military police officers restrains the inmate "with the reasonable force necessary," and a medical professional is on hand in case of injuries. The shaving must be done with electric clippers and must be videotaped, according to Army rules.
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled that Hasan's appeal was premature because Gross has not issued a definitive order. But the court said that if Gross issues that order, Hasan would be able to appeal first to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals. That would halt proceedings in the case before he has entered his pleas to any of the charges.
Gross is expected to rule Thursday that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which is aimed at preventing laws that hinder the exercise of religion, does not trump Army regulations designed to maintain order and discipline — including the ban on beards. However, if Gross rules the federal act takes precedence and doesn't order the shaving, Hasan would enter his pleas and a trial date would be set, according to Fort Hood officials.
The judge cannot accept a guilty plea for the premeditated murder charges, because the government is seeking the death penalty against Hasan. At a hearing last month, Hasan indicated he wanted to plead guilty to the attempted premeditated murder charges, according to discussions about a defense motion.