KILLEEN, Tex. — The judge overseeing the military trial of the Army psychiatrist charged in a deadly shooting rampage at the Fort Hood base denied on Thursday his former lawyers’ request to limit their role in the case. The ruling came a day after the lawyers said they could no longer assist him because he was seeking the same goal as prosecutors — to be sentenced to death.
The psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, released his court-appointed Army defense lawyers so he could represent himself, a rare if not unprecedented move in a military capital-punishment case. His three former lawyers remain by his side in the courtroom as standby counsel.
After Major Hasan gave an opening statement on Tuesday and admitted being the gunman, his former lead Army lawyer asked the judge to cut back the lawyers’ involvement, saying that helping him achieve his goal of getting the death sentence violates their ethics as defense lawyers. They were not seeking to withdraw from the case, but to have their roles modified.
On Thursday, the judge said the dispute amounted to a disagreement over strategy between Major Hasan and his standby counsel. She said that he was competent to represent himself, and that the Constitution gives him the right to do so. The judge, Col. Tara A. Osborn, ordered the lawyers to continue to assist him.
Military law experts said the appeal — to be filed with the Army Court of Criminal Appeals — would not have a major impact on the trial. But the colonel has filed appeals in the case that have been upheld by military appellate courts, altering the trial’s course.