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June 15, 2013

Judge bans Fort Hood suspect's defense strategy

FORT HOOD, Texas — A uniformed Army psychiatrist had no justification for gunning down U.S. troops and won't be allowed to tell jurors that he was protecting Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, a military judge ruled Friday, appearing to clear the way for the Fort Hood murder trial to begin.

Maj. Nidal Hasan's "defense of others" strategy fails as a matter of law, Col. Tara Osborn said during a 45-minute hearing. That strategy must show that a killing was necessary to prevent the immediate harm or death of others.

Osborn said no soldiers at the Texas Army post on Nov. 5, 2009, posed an imminent threat to anyone in Afghanistan and that the legitimacy of the Afghanistan war is not an issue at Hasan's court-martial. She also ordered that Hasan not present any evidence or arguments about his claims that deploying U.S. troops posed an immediate threat to Taliban fighters.

Hasan, an American-born Muslim, faces the death penalty or life without parole if convicted in the rampage that left 13 dead and nearly three dozen wounded.

He asked for a three-month trial delay to prepare for his defense after his request to serve as his own attorney was granted last week. But that delay seems unlikely since Osborn rejected his defense strategy; she has not ruled on his request.

Hasan can appeal Friday's strategy ruling, but an appellate court likely would not hear the case until the trial is over, said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio.

It's unclear if Hasan will present another strategy. All defense strategies must be approved by a judge in order to determine if they meet certain legal standards.

He might forego a defense theory, instead having the government prove its case and hope it causes reasonable doubt for at least one juror, Addicott said. Death penalty cases in the military require the jury's verdict be unanimous in finding guilt or assessing a sentence.

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