Jury panel selection begins in accused Fort Hood shooter's trial


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE


Posted on July 9, 2013 at 11:36 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 9 at 7:43 PM

FORT HOOD, Texas -- Nearly four years after the shooting massacre on Fort Hood, the trial against the accused shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, started Tuesday.

"Having covered this from the beginning it's kind of been curve ball after curve ball, delay after delay and we weren't really sure. We knew it would get to this point, but you know it almost seems surreal that it's actually starting," said Jeremy Schwartz, a reporter with the Austin American Statesman. 

Shortly after 11:00 am, Joleen Cahill walked into the heavily guarded justice complex on post. Her husband Michael Cahill worked as a physician and was the only civilian killed in the shooting on Fort Hood in November 2009.

Cahill arrived for the final pre-trial hearing scheduled three hours before the start of the jury panel selection. 

During the hearing, Hasan seemed quiet and reserved, wearing an Army Combat Uniform (ACU). 

"He's a very quiet, sort of cerebral person," said Schwartz.

The big question before the hearing was whether Hasan would represent himself or hire former Attorney General William Ramsey Clark. Hasan said he wanted Ramsey Clark to represent him if he could use the Defense of Others argument.

In a previous hearing, Military Judge Colonel Tara Osborn denied that line of defense. Tuesday, she reiterated to Hasan that he would not be able to use Defense of Others as an argument. 

"I think that was a long shot for him to think that the judge would change her mind and let him out on that defense. A defense that basically says it's an unlawful war in Afghanistan and American soldiers should be susceptible to violence," explained Schwartz.

Osborn also verbally reprimanded Hasan for releasing a sealed court document to Killeen newspaper The Killeen Daily Herald. The document outlined his plan to use the Defense of Others argument. Osborn said the document was sealed for Hasan's protection and since he released it, it will now have to be unsealed. She also told him that if he continues to violate the rules of the court, he will be appointed an attorney.

During the pre-trial hearing, Hasan requested to tell panel candidates during selection that he is being forced to wear a uniform.

"I can't take any pride in wearing this uniform. I think it represents an enemy of Islam and I want the panel to know I'm being forced to wear it," Hasan said. 

The prosecution replied to the judge, "He will be forced to wear it."

Outside of the hearing, Fort Hood officials explained Hasan is paralyzed from the chest down, and therefore requires special equipment be with him. The ACU has pockets that allow room for this.

At 2:30 pm, the court martial started with jury panel selection. Twenty U.S. Army Officers of Major, Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel rank were brought into the courtroom. Of the 20, three were women and 17 men. 

After being sworn in by the one of the prosecutors, Osborn read the panel instructions. She explained that Hasan would be representing himself and told jurors, "he has every right to do this." She also explained that he has a beard, which is not in compliance with the military dress code, because of his religious beliefs and that they are not to judge him based on that.

Osborn then asked the pool of candidates general questions during the group voir dire, including if any members of the potential panel knew any of the victims, potential witnesses, members of the prosecution or defense or the judge. Three did, including one man who worked with Michael Cahill.

Seven of the potential panelist said they had previous knowledge of the case and all of them said they had heard or seen news reports on the incident. Six said they saw or read news reports about the trial proceedings. But all agreed that they could put those things aside and rule fairly in the case if they were selected.

Of the 20 potential panel members, 11 have served on a jury panel before.

Colonel Osborn asked the candidates if they could think of any reason why they should not be a juror, and three of them responded yes.

After the judge's questions, the prosecution asked the panel some general questions.

When given the opportunity, Major Hasan said he didn't have any questions for the panel.

After the general voir dire, both Hasan and the prosecution agreed to release six of the candidates, one woman and five men, from the jury pool, including the man who knew one of the victims.

The pool of candidates is now down to 14. A minimum of 13 panelists have to be selected but the court could decide to have more. That's because court martial trials do not allow alternate jurors and having more people on the panel would ensure the case doesn't have to be re-started if something happens to one or more jurors. Only 12 jury panel members have to agree on a verdict and sentence.

Jury panel selection is expected to take between two and three weeks.

Hasan is charged with 13 counts of pre-meditated murder and 32 counts of attempted pre-meditated murder for the November 5, 2009 shooting on Fort Hood. If convicted, Hasan could be sentenced to life in prison without parole or death.

Two civilian police officers shot Hasan, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. Hasan worked as an Army psychiatrist. Before the shootings, he told his superiors he didn't want to go to Iraq and complained of harassment due to his Muslim faith.

Opening statements are currently scheduled for August 6th.

Follow tweets from our reporter on the scene, Ashley Goudeau, below.