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Military judge rejects defense arguments in Fort Hood shooting case

By Jim Forsyth and Don Bolding

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A military judge on Wednesday rejected a defense counsel's arguments over whether Major Nidal Hasan, who is due to stand trial for the 2009 killing of 13 people at the army base in Fort Hood, Texas, could face the death penalty if found guilty.

More than three years after Hasan, an Army psychiatrist allegedly carried out the worst shooting ever at a U.S. military base, defense lawyers last week asked the court to set aside the possibility of the death penalty against him.

Hasan is accused of firing more than 200 rounds from his semi-automatic pistol before he was shot and wounded, ending the shooting spree that killed 13 soldiers and wounded 32 people.

Hasan, 42, was left paralyzed from the chest down

Proceedings were sidetracked for much of the last year over Hasan's request to keep his beard because he is a Muslim. A military judge held him in contempt and threatened to have him forcibly shaved because a full beard is a violation of Army grooming regulations.

A new judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, was appointed last month to handle the case and the beard issue appears to have been put aside. Hasan was in court, with his beard, and Osborn made sure rules were followed allowing him to pray during a lunch break.

The judge ordered defense attorneys to file new explanations by February 6 of their qualifications to represent clients in capital cases. A defendant in a military murder case cannot plead guilty while facing the death penalty.

Osborn scheduled another hearing for February 27 to consider the admissibility of previous expert testimony.

She will also consider the possibility of a change of venue and is expected to rule on the circumstances under which prosecutors may present aggravating circumstances during pre-sentencing proceedings.

(Reporting by Jim Forsyth; Editing by Greg McCune and Bob Burgdorfer; Desking by Christopher Wilson)

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