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Accused Fort Hood shooter seeks to avoid death penalty

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 Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Accused Fort Hood gunman Army Major Nidal Hasan is expected to ask a court on Thursday to remove the death penalty as a punishment option in his forthcoming court-martial on charges of killing 13 people in a 2009 shooting rampage.

At a pre-trial hearing, judge Colonel Tara Osborn is likely to consider a request from the defense that Hasan's trial be pushed back until September 1. Selection of the panel of officers who will act as the jury is set to begin on May 29.

Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is facing the death penalty for opening fire in Forth Hood, Texas, on a group of soldiers who were preparing to deploy to Iraq on November 5, 2009.

In addition to the 13 killed, 32 were wounded, and Hasan, 42, is paralyzed from the chest down from gunshots fired by two civilian Fort Hood police officers who ended what was the worst shooting at a U.S. military installation.

Osborn previously denied a request by Hasan's lawyers that the death penalty be removed from consideration in return for a guilty plea. The Uniform Code of Military Justice, the unique law code that governs the armed forces, does not allow a guilty plea to a capital charge.

Jeffrey Addicott, a professor of law at St. Mary's University in Texas, said nothing has happened that would change Osborn's decision.

"The evidence is overwhelming, so the defense has always concentrated on two things: How can we delay this trial, and how can we get a reduced sentence," said Addicott, a former legal adviser to the Army Special Forces. "The defense is hoping that the more time that goes by, they can just get the government to throw up their hands in frustration and say, OK, we'll just accept a guilty plea."

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.

Opening arguments in the trial are expected to begin on July 1.

Hasan's lawyers are also asking that a media affairs expert be appointed at government expense to assist the defense in jury selection.

Fort Hood is a 340-square-mile (880-square-km) Army post located about 60 miles north of Austin, Texas.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Scott Malone and Mohammad Zargham)

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