Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in Fort Hood’s Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting, must undergo a medical exam before he learns whether a military judge will grant his request to represent himself at his upcoming court-martial.
During a brief pretrial hearing Wednesday, Hasan told military judge Col. Tara Osborn that he wished to dismiss his three Army lawyers and spearhead his own defense. Hasan potentially faces the death penalty on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
“Now you’ve changed your mind and want to be represented by yourself?” Osborn asked.
“That’s correct,” answered Hasan, who responded to Osborn’s questions throughout the hearing in a calm, low voice.
If Osborn grants his request, which experts have said is a probable outcome, Hasan’s military attorneys would likely remain on the case as standby counsel, assisting with procedural matters.
Legal experts say Osborn must grant Hasan’s wish, unless she finds him either mentally or physically incompetent. Osborn cited a 2010 ruling from a military sanity board that concluded that Hasan had “sufficient mental capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings and conduct or cooperate” in his defense.
But Osborn said she is concerned that Hasan, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a firefight with Fort Hood police officers and uses a wheelchair, wouldn’t be able to withstand the rigors of what is expected to be a two- to three-month trial.
His attorneys had previously told the judge that he would need periodic breaks during the trial.
“Representing yourself is a much more taxing enterprise than sitting there and assisting counsel,” Osborn told Hasan. “I’m concerned about your physical limitations.”
Hasan told the judge the only medications he is taking are over-the-counter pain medications like Tylenol. His last medical exam was about a year ago, according to officials.
Osborn said she wouldn’t rule until Hasan underwent a new physical examination, which she revealed has been a point of contention in recent weeks. An examination by his court-appointed doctor was scuttled when government funding ran out, and Hasan refused a backup plan to be examined at Fort Hood’s Darnall Army Medical Center.
On Wednesday, Hasan said he refused to be seen by a specific doctor there, Lt. Col. Harry Wright, because of “my previous experiences.”
Hasan didn’t elaborate, but he had been assigned to the medical center before the mass shooting. He told Osborn he would agree to be seen by another doctor there “with the assurance from you that (Wright) would not have influence” on other doctors and that his evaluation be “independent.”
“That would be my only concern,” Hasan said.
Osborn set a Monday hearing for the as-yet-unnamed doctor to testify to Hasan’s physical condition. Jury selection remains scheduled for Wednesday, and testimony is expected to start in early July.