Nidal Hasan argues with defense lawyers over death penalty

FORT HOOD, Texas Defense attorneys assigned to help Army Maj. Nidal Hasan during his trial for the deadly 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood said Wednesday that they're concerned the former psychiatrist is working with prosecutors to be sentenced to death.

After dismissing multiple defense attorneys, Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 and injuring 31, waived his right to counsel and chose to represent himself. Over objections from Hasan, Judge Col. Tara Osborn previously ruled that he will have standby counsel on hand throughout the trial.

On Wednesday, one of those attorneys, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, argued that he and his fellow standby defense attorneys were concerned that Hasan is "working in concert with prosecution in achieving the death sentence."

Poppe told the court that he and Hasan's two other attorneys, Lt. Col. Christopher Martin and Maj. Joseph Marcee, "do not want to be forced to help him get to the death penalty." Poppe called Hasan's trial performance "repugnant."

Poppe said that he disagreed with decisions Hasan made during jury selection, but the judge dismissed that, saying, "At first blush, that is just a difference in strategy." The judge pressed lawyers to clarify exactly what they wanted and described their motion as being "at war within itself."

Hasan objected to Poppe's characterization of his defense stating, "Colonel Poppy has made an assertion that is inaccurate. I would like to clarify that."

The judge said she would allow Hasan to articulate his objections but in a private, ex-parte hearing behind closed doors. Hasan objected to the proceeding, but the judge still closed court to hear arguments on the motion.

Court later recessed until Thursday morning with no decision made on the motion.

Hasan uses a wheelchair as a result of being shot during the rampage. He does not deny his guilt. In his brief opening statement Tuesday, he said, "Evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter." The military justice system does not allow a "guilty" plea in cases where the death penalty is being sought.

The court-martial proceeding has been authorized to consider the death penalty, and Hasan faces a panel of 13 senior Army officers that will hear evidence and render a verdict in the case.

The panel must unanimously convict Hasan of murder in order to sentence him to death, but even a unanimous death penalty conviction would likely face years, if not decades, of appeals.

It has been more than 50 years since the U.S. military executed a U.S. service member. Army Pfc. John A. Bennett was the last service member to be put to death, on April 13, 1961, after being convicted of the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old girl. There are currently five service members on death row.

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CBS News digital journalist Paula Reid is licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

  • Paula Reid

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