FORT HOOD, Texas -- The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly Fort Hood shooting rampage apparently will be allowed to keep his beard during his military trial, after a new judge indicated Tuesday that she won't force him to shave.
The previous judge's order requiring Maj. Nidal Hasan to be clean-shaven or be forcibly shaved before his trial had tied up the case for more than three months, but an appeals court ousted that judge earlier this month.
The new judge overseeing Hasan's case told him during a hearing Tuesday that the beard, now thicker than when he first appeared in court with it in June, violates Army regulations. The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, said she won't hold it against him but that military jurors might.
Hasan answered "yes, ma'am" when Osborn asked if he grew the beard voluntarily. In a previous court hearing, he said he grew the beard because his Muslim faith requires it and not as a show of disrespect. Osborn asked defense attorneys to draft jury instructions about the issue. Jurors likely will be told not to consider Hasan's appearance when deciding on a verdict.
Hasan, 42, an American-born Muslim, faces the death penalty or life in military prison without parole if convicted in the 2009 rampage that killed 13 and wounded more than two dozen others on the Texas Army post.
Osborn was appointed to the case two weeks ago, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces removed the former judge and tossed his order regarding Hasan's beard. The ruling said Col. Gregory Gross did not appear impartial while presiding over Hasan's case and that the command - not a judge - is responsible for enforcing military grooming standards.
Hasan's trial date hasn't been set. Osborn first has to rule on several pending motions. Defense attorneys also want Osborn to reverse Gross' rulings on nearly two dozen motions, including requests for change-of-venue, a couple of experts and some investigative reports.
Defense attorneys also said they will again ask that Hasan be allowed to plead guilty. At an August hearing, Gross said he was not able to accept a guilty plea on the 13 charges of premeditated murder because Army rules prohibit a judge from accepting a guilty plea in a death penalty case.
Hasan also is charged with 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
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