Nidal Hasan Hopes For Death In Fort Hood Killings, Lawyers Say

The backup legal team for admitted Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan asked to withdraw from active participation in the case Wednesday, telling a judge that Hasan wants to be sentenced to death.
The request brought Hasan’s court-martial to a screeching halt on what would have been the second day of testimony. The presiding judge, Col. Tara Osborn, recessed court until Thursday to hold a closed-door hearing with Hasan and his lawyers.
Hasan is representing himself on charges that he shot and killed 13 people and wounded 32 in the November 2009 rampage at the installation, near Killeen, Texas. But Osborn ruled before the court-martial began that defense lawyers would act as stand-by counsel during the proceedings.
The lawyers’ roles had been limited to helping Hasan file motions and coaching him on procedural matters. But after Tuesday, when Hasan used his opening statement to declare “I am the shooter,” they filed a motion to step aside.
The head of the legal team, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, said Wednesday that Hasan was “working in concert with the prosecution to achieve a death sentence.”
“It becomes clear that his goal is to remove impediments and obstacles and is working towards a death penalty,” Poppe said. He and the two other lawyers said they were still willing to defend Hasan if needed but couldn’t ethically stand by to help him at this point.
Hasan objected to Poppe’s characterization, calling it “a twist of the facts.” But he refused to submit his objection in writing, a move that Osborn requested to avoid revealing privileged information, and insisted on being heard in open court.
Geoffrey Corn, a military justice expert at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, said the lawyers are in “a terrible predicament.”
“They have to stand by and watch the person they are ostensibly charged with assisting to represent himself essentially put a noose around his own neck, and they view this as fundamentally inconsistent with their ethical obligation as lawyers,” he said.
But Corn said Hasan not only has the right to defend himself, “He has the right to do it poorly” — even to the point of asking for death.
“The defense lawyers would love to get off this case, because it becomes unbearable,” Corn said. “If you imagine having to sit there, being an ardent opponent of capital punishment, watching this guy seal his own fate with every move he makes, it must be torture. But the judge can’t let them off the case.”