News Column

Hasan Probes Officer's Death-penalty Qualms

July 16, 2013

A trio of potential jurors revealed strongly held beliefs about the death penalty and the case against Maj. Nidal Hasan on Monday as the second week of jury selection began in his capital murder case.

One colonel who was questioned said he opposed the death penalty.

"It's a high mark for me in terms of saying to put someone to death. Personally, there's got to be a very, very high (mark)," said the officer, a devout Southern Baptist. "I think I could give consideration to it."

Hasan, 42, is accused of killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 in a shooting rampage on Nov. 5, 2009, at Fort Hood.

Prosecutors sought to strike the three officers from the panel Monday, saying they were biased. Hasan didn't vigorously oppose any of the candidates and agreed with prosecution.

The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, took no action, telling the jurors to return Tuesday. So far 10 officers are on the jury, with the judge wanting at least 13. Officers of Hasan's rank or higher are required for the panel.

A polite Hasan asked the colonel questions that went to the heart of his struggle with the death penalty. It was the only time in the day he appeared animated.

The colonel, whom the Army would not identify, stated, "Man cannot play God," in response to a written question about whether he agreed with his church's opposition to the death penalty. He appeared to relent when pressed.

"The evidence has to be there and I have to be convinced that it is there beyond reasonable doubt," the colonel said.

Hasan prompted a long pause after asking the colonel if he would disobey God and his church in handing down the death penalty.

"That's a very difficult question," the colonel replied. "I'd have to give that some more thought."

Hasan asked a variation of the same question minutes later.

"I would really have to consider that," the colonel said, explaining that he'd have to weigh the evidence. "I think when I talk about the death penalty and I think about it, this is very tough for me."

His voice faded.

"Because, like I've said, I've seen it administered, unfairly in some cases, so I'm beholden to uphold the law and I'll do that, but I have to make sure it fits in the evidence, meets the guidelines that have been outlined here."

Osborn opened the proceedings by instructing six prospective jurors to ignore Hasan's beard, which Army regulations forbid. A battle over the beard delayed jury selection for most of the last year and caused an appeals court to remove Col. Gregory Gross, his first judge, from the case.

"Maj. Hasan has grown a beard because of his religious beliefs," she said, warning them "not to draw any adverse inferences" against him.

The jurors indicated they could follow that instruction, but Maj. Larry Downend, a prosecutor, told the judge that three of the six prospective jurors were too flawed.

Pointing to the colonel, Downend complained, "He would require a high mark that tends to show he would hold the government to a standard" that cannot be defined. Another man, a major, told the court he thinks Hasan is guilty but also said his father has terminal cancer.

"I have no idea of knowing what the situation is with his health and when it will turn south," he said.

"Is that something you think of every day?" Osborn asked.

"Yes, ma'am, I think of it every day."

sigc@express-news.net

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