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Beard keeps Fort Hood shooting suspect out of court; lawyers claim bias

By Jeremy Schwartz, Austin American-Statesman –

A bearded Maj. Nidal Hasan was once again barred from the courtroom Friday after top Army officials rejected his request to grow facial hair for religious reasons and a military appeals court denied a request to let him back in the courtroom.

Hasan’s lawyers then tried to get the judge to recuse himself from the case, claiming the judge’s reaction over a mess left next to one of Hasan’s adult diapers in a courtroom bathroom showed bias against Hasan.

Earlier this month, military judge Col. Gregory Gross ordered Hasan removed for violating Army grooming regulations. Since then, Hasan has watched the court proceedings on closed-circuit television from a trailer outside the courthouse. The Army psychiatrist, who was clean-shaven during more than two years of court appearances before growing a beard, faces the death penalty on 13 counts of premeditated murder in the Nov 5, 2009, shooting spree at Fort Hood that left 13 dead and 32 people wounded.

During Friday’s pre-trial hearing, Gross also denied a defense motion for another delay in the court-martial, which was supposed to begin in March. The trial remains scheduled to begin Aug. 20. Defense attorneys had argued that they needed until December to prepare for what is expected to be a sprawling, weeks-long court-martial.

It wasn’t clear Friday why the Pentagon rejected Hasan’s beard request; since 2009 it has allowed six soldiers to grow beards for religious reasons, including two Muslim doctors.

Gross also denied a defense motion that he step down from the case following an exchange in court about Hasan’s adult diapers and possible feces smeared in a courtroom bathroom.

Hasan, who was paralyzed from the chest down when he was shot after the November 2009 shooting, uses the diapers because he is unable to control his bodily functions, lawyers said. Gross, who often tidies up the Fort Hood courtroom and adjoining rooms, has regularly disposed of Hasan’s soiled diapers after previous hearings, the judge revealed.

But Hasan’s attorneys said an incident after a June 8 hearing, when Hasan first appeared with a beard, showed Gross holds bias against the Army psychiatrist. Gross said that when court adjourned that day, he found what appeared to be feces smeared on the bathroom floor alongside Hasan’s diaper, and fired off an email to defense lawyers to clean up the mess. Lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe said Gross assumed the mess was left by Hasan, but was in fact mud tracked in by one of his guards, and that his reaction showed bias against Hasan.

Gross denied that he harbors any bias against Hasan. Before refusing to step down from the case, Gross told Poppe, “We’re wasting our time talking about what was in the latrine — feces or mud.”

Poppe accused Gross of showing an “emotional irritation” and “agitated reaction” to Hasan during pre-trial hearings and said defense attorneys would appeal Gross’s refusal to step down.

On Friday, Gross granted a defense request to interview Fort Hood Commander Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell as well as his staff judge advocate about their roles in referring the case to a court-martial.

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