FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The trial of the Army psychiatrist charged in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage will go forward, according to a military appeals court ruling Monday. But the court did not address whether the beard that he's grown in jail could be forcibly shaved before the court-martial.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces said that Maj. Nidal Hasan's appeal was premature because the trial judge hasn't issued a definitive, written order for the forced shaving. If the judge issues that order, then Hasan can appeal it, the court said.
On Aug. 15, the appeals court said it was considering Hasan's appeal of the judge's comments, which said he would order Hasan to be forcibly shaved if he refused to shave the beard himself before the trial. The appeals court then delayed all proceedings and Hasan's court-martial, which had been scheduled to start Aug. 20.
No pretrial hearings had been set and the trial had not been rescheduled as of Monday afternoon, Fort Hood officials said.
Hasan, 41, faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted in the November 2009 shooting rampage that killed 13 and wounded more than two dozen others on the Texas Army post, about 125 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
The judge, Col. Gregory Gross, has already given Hasan numerous chances to shave the beard himself and likely will order a forcible shaving, said Jeff Addicott, a retired military attorney who is not involved with Hasan's case. Then, Addicott said, defense attorneys would file another appeal, further delaying the trial.
"I'm not sure why the appeals court considered this appeal at all because there was no order from the judge yet, and it's causing more delays and frustration," said Addicott, who is the director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio.
Hasan's attorneys have said he grew the beard, which violates Army regulations, as an expression of his Muslim faith. They argued that forcing him to shave would violate his religious freedoms. They also have said Hasan wouldn't shave because he had a premonition that his death is imminent, and doesn't want to die beardless because he believes not having one is a sin.
According to military regulations, soldiers who disobey orders to be clean-shaven can be forcibly shaved.
The judge has banned Hasan from courtroom hearings since he first showed up in court in June with a beard. Hasan has watched proceedings with one of his attorneys on a closed-circuit television in a nearby room.
But Gross said he wants Hasan in the courtroom during the court-martial to prevent a possible appeal over the beard if Hasan is convicted. Gross said he would order that Hasan would be forcibly shaved before the trial unless he shaves himself.
Hasan is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police on the day of the rampage, but appears to have full use of his arms.
Since late July, the judge has found Hasan in contempt of court and fined him $1,000 five times — each time he wasn't clean-shaven at a hearing.
Prosecutors have said they don't believe that religion is Hasan's motive, noting he was clean-shaven at the time of the shootings.