Fort Hood trial adjourns for day after attorneys’ discussion on death penalty

This court room sketch shows Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan during his court-martial Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, in Fort Hood, Texas. Hasan is representing himself against charges of murder and attempted murder for the 2009 attack that left 13 people dead at Fort Hood. AP Photo/Brigitte Woosley

A military judge in the court-martial of an Army psychiatrist called a surprise early recess for the remainder of the day after a lawyer on Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's standby defense team said Hasan was "encouraging" the death penalty.

The team on Wednesday filed a motion to reduce its role after asserting Hasan was "working toward" the death penalty.

Hasan is serving as his own attorney after twice dismissing his court-appointed egal team.

The standby team is in place to ensure Hasan's case is handled properly while he acts as his own defense lawyer.

The American-born Muslim is accused of killing 13 soldiers and wounding 32 others on Nov. 5, 2009, at the sprawling Fort Hood military base in central Texas.

Hasan said in a brief opening statement on Tuesday that "evidence will clearly show" he was responsible for the massacre.

On Wednesday, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, Hasan's standby attorney, told Judge Col. Tara Osborn he was willing to be Hasan's attorney, but it was "clear his goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is working toward a death penalty," the Associated Press reported.

In response, Hasan said: "I object. That's a twist of the facts."

At that point, Osborn cleared the courtroom to consider the request by the standby defense team to reduce its role.

Hasan was shot by a civilian police officer in the bloody attack and is confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. 

He faces a panel of 13 senior Army officers — including nine colonels, three lieutenant colonels, and one major. If convicted, he could get the death penalty.

On Tuesday, the first day of the trial, wearing an Army combat uniform, he made a startling declaration: "The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter."

But he also told jurors the evidence would only show one side of the story.

"Witnesses will testify that war is an ugly thing. Death, destruction and devastation are felt from both sides, from friend and foe. Evidence from this trial will only show one side. I was on the wrong side, but I switched sides," he said in opening statement, which lasted barely more than a minute.

Hasan has admitted to the 2009 rampage, but was prohibited by a military judge from entering a guilty plea because prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty.

The court-martial began under heavy security. A row of shipping freight containers, stacked three high, created a makeshift fence around the courthouse on the first day of the trial, which is expected to go for several weeks, if not longer. Guards with long assault rifles stood watch outside the courthouse on Tuesday.

Prosecutors say Hasan meticulously planned the attack, buying ammunition before he was supposed to deploy to Afghanistan. 

"Evidence will show that Hasan didn't want to deploy and he possessed a jihad duty to kill as many soldiers as possible," military prosecutor Col. Steve Henricks said in his opening statement.

The military judge in the case, Col. Tara Osborn, ruled last Friday that prosecutors can present evidence that Hasan searched for specific terms online in the days and hours before the attack, including "Taliban" and "jihad," which is defined by some radical Islamists as "holy war."

The government claims Hasan sent more than a dozen emails starting in December 2008 to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric who was killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

On Tuesday, one of the men wounded in the rampage testified before jurors, recounting how he took cover behind a counter inside the large complex where the shooting took place.

Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford said he saw Hasan unleash a spray of bullets into a crowd of nearby soldiers after shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Great" in Arabic) before Hasan pointed his gun at Lunsford, striking him in the head and in the back.

Lunsford pretended to be dead as Hasan went after other victims, according to the AP.

After Lunsford escaped through a back door, Hasan came outside and shot him five more times in the torso, he said.

“I can’t see from my left eye, blood is pooling under my head, my eye is swelling,” Lunsford said just a few feet away from Hasan, who sat quietly in his wheelchair. “I decided to run.”

Hasan's trial was initially slated to begin more than a year and a half ago, but legal quagmires have repeatedly delayed it.

The first judge in the case was ordered to be removed because of an appearance of bias. Hasan has also fought with the court to represent himself and to sport his beard, a violation of the Army's grooming standards, which he says he is doing as an expression of his religion.

Helicopter as transportation

A helicopter transports Hasan nearly every day between Bell County Jail, where he is being held, to the Fort Hood base, and he lives under the watch of a private guard for at least 12 hours each day — all on the dime of the U.S. Army and American taxpayers, according to

The daily helicopter rides are necessary because driving Hasan by car creates security concerns for the jail, reported.

But victims of the rampage told that the special treatment he receives doesn't match up with what they have gotten since the shooting. 

Staff Sgt. Josh Berry, one of the victims injured in the shooting, committed suicide on Feb. 13, 2013, after years of battling post-traumatic stress caused by the massacre, his family told the station.

"He felt there were more considerations that were being given to the shooter that weren’t being given to the victims and he couldn’t understand," said Howard Berry, Josh’s father.

NBC's Mark Potter and Daniel Arkin contributed to this report. The Associated Press and Reuters also contributed. 

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