FORT HOOD, Texas – The Army psychiatrist accused of opening fire at Fort Hood, killing 13 and wounding dozens more, made his first military courtroom appearance Tuesday as his attorney sought to delay the case.
Neither Maj. Nidal Hasan nor any witnesses were expected to speak during the hearing, at which military prosecutors and defense attorneys planned to discuss case preparations and other basic matters.
Defense attorney John Galligan said he would seek to delay Hasan's Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding in which a judge hears witness testimony to determine whether the case should go to trial. No date has been set, but authorities have said the trial could be held as early as July 1.
Galligan said the Article 32 hearing should not proceed before Oct. 1 because he still needs key documents, including some of Hasan's military records, FBI files on Hasan's alleged contact with a radical Islamic cleric in Yemen months before the shooting, and some government reviews of the shooting rampage.
Officials increased security at the court building Tuesday, blocking off the road to the Lawrence J. Williams Judicial Center, bomb-sniffing dogs searched the parking lot and visitors were screened with hand-held metal detectors. Usually, none of those precautions are taken.
Hasan is awaiting a mental evaluation, which is to be conducted sometime after the Article 32 hearing. A panel of doctors will determine whether Hasan had a severe mental illness at the time of the shooting. If so, the doctors will offer a clinical psychological diagnosis and determine whether it prevented Hasan from knowing his alleged actions were wrong at the time, and if he is competent to stand trial, according to military law.
Prosecutors have not announced if they will seek the death penalty against Hasan, who faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military post.
If convicted, Hasan could be sentenced to death only if the military jurors determine there is an aggravating factor, according to military law. Last month, prosecutors sent a notice to Galligan listing one aggravating factor in the case: that more than one person was killed in the same incident.
Experts have said prosecutors would not send such a notice unless they planned to seek the death penalty.
While Tuesday's hearing was the second for Hasan, it is the first time he's appeared in a Fort Hood courtroom. His initial hearing — two weeks after the Nov. 5 shootings — was held in his hospital room at San Antonio's Brooke Army Medical Center. He was paralyzed from the chest down after being wounded that day by military police officers.
Hasan was treated at the San Antonio facility until his April transfer to the Bell County Jail, which houses military suspects for nearby Fort Hood. The military justice system does not have bail for defendants.
Bell County Sheriff Dan Smith has said Hasan would be isolated from other inmates while housed in a 12-by-15-foot cell in the jail infirmary, which he said was well-equipped to handle Hasan's medical needs.