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Trial venue set for U.S. Army officer accused of Fort Hood massacre

Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people and wounding 31 in a November 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, is pictured in an undated
Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people and wounding 31 in a November 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, is pictured in an undated

By Don Bolding

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people during a 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, will face a court martial trial at the base, a military judge ruled on Wednesday, rejecting his request to change the venue.

Judge Tara Osborn, a U.S. Army colonel, last month set July 1 for the start of the court martial for Hasan, who has been in custody since the shooting rampage that also wounded 32 people. Hasan could face the death penalty if convicted.

Selection of a jury, or panel in military law terminology, is scheduled to begin in May. Osborn also rejected Hasan's request to select jurors from the Navy or Air Force instead of the Army.

Osborn has been trying to get the trial schedule on track after extensive delays while the military justice system debated whether Hasan, who is Muslim, should be required to shave his beard to comply with military rules. Osborn has put that issue aside.

Several procedural issues were also discussed at the hearing on Wednesday for the upcoming jury selection and trial.

The Army has said the officers who will make up Hasan's jury will be brought in from another post, probably Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

Hasan's counsel had said the change in venue and jury pool were a question of fairness, given the saturation of coverage about the shootings in the Army Times newspaper, compared with newspapers for the other branches of the armed forces.

Jeffrey Addicott, a retired Army Special Forces Judge Advocate General, said before the hearing, "This is such a high profile case that you can't go to any military installation in the world and find a panel which has not heard about this case."

Hasan is accused of jumping onto a table in an office at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009 and shooting a pistol at soldiers who were preparing for deployment to Iraq.

The rampage ended when two civilian police officers shot Hasan, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the chest down. He has appeared in court in a wheelchair.

Hasan's defense counsel has objected to the testimony of terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann, who prosecutors hope will help them show Hasan planned the attack as a terrorist act. Osborn said she would announce at a later date to what extent Kohlmann will be allowed to testify.

Osborn has denied a request by Hasan's lawyers that the death penalty be removed from consideration in return for a guilty plea.

Hasan could decide to plead guilty to lesser charges, including 32 specifications of attempted capital murder. However, military law experts said they do not expect any guilty plea from Hasan to come on Wednesday. A plea would be more likely to come just before the trial begins, they said.

After years of wrangling, Osborn is also unlikely to accept any defense requests that would delay the court martial, said Geoffrey Corn, a former lieutenant colonel in the Army Judge Advocate Corps and now a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston.

"I think she is sensitive to the fact that this has dragged on for a long time, and it's time to get this case to trial," Corn said.

Osborn set the next hearing in the case for April 16.

(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by David Gregorio, Cynthia Johnston, Dan Grebler and Lisa Shumaker)

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