Fort Hood Shooting Trial Delayed Pending Ruling on Beard

HOUSTON — The Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in a 2009 shooting rampage at the Fort Hood Army base in Killeen, Tex., won a temporary delay of his trial on Wednesday, after a military appeals court halted the proceedings to allow it time to rule on whether the judge in his case can order him to be forcibly shaved.

The psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, grew a beard in recent months, an expression, his defense lawyers said, of his Muslim faith. Beards violate Army regulations, and Fort Hood’s chief circuit judge, Col. Gregory Gross, has forbidden Major Hasan to sit in the courtroom during several pretrial hearings at Fort Hood as a result.

Colonel Gross has allowed the major to watch via a closed-circuit television feed in a trailer near the courthouse.

The judge has repeatedly fined Major Hasan and held him in contempt over his beard, stating that his appearance was a disruption and that he would have him forcibly shaved unless he complied. But his lawyers asked the highest military appeals court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, to prevent the shaving and issue a stay.

How the beard issue is handled has serious legal implications. If Major Hasan is allowed to keep the beard but watch the proceedings from outside the courthouse during his trial, he could appeal a conviction by arguing that his Sixth Amendment rights, which grant the accused the right to be “confronted with the witnesses against him,” were violated.

John P. Galligan, the lawyer whom Major Hasan released last year, said he was pleased by the appeals court’s order. “Finally somebody stepped in and said, ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ ” he said. “A forcible shave would be inappropriate and almost illegal in the context of this death penalty case.”