FORT HOOD, Texas -- Defense attorneys helping the Fort Hood shooting suspect demanded their removal from the trial on Thursday, saying the judge was forcing them to violate professional rules of conduct.
The lawyers have been helping Maj. Nidal Hasan represent himself during the trial. They asked to take over his defense on Wednesday, saying Hasan appeared to be trying to convince jurors to convict him and sentence him to death.
But the judge sided with Hasan on Thursday, saying it was clear the standby attorneys simply disagree with Hasan’s defense strategy—and the standby attorneys immediately said they would appeal the ruling to a higher court.
“We believe your order is causing us to violate our rules of professional conduct,” Hasan’s lead standby attorney, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, told the judge.
The judge recessed the trial.
The prosecutor, Col. Michael Mulligan, stood up and defended Hasan’s strategy, saying Hasan would have been “absurd” to contest the facts of what happened that day. Mulligan said Hasan appeared to be taking on a “tried and true” defense strategy of not contesting the facts but rather offering an alternative reason about why they occurred.
“I’m really perplexed as to how it’s caused such a moral dilemma,” Mulligan said.
On Wednesday, after only one day of testimony, the standby defense lawyers said they couldn’t watch Hasan fulfill a death wish.
“It becomes clear his goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is working toward a death penalty,” Poppe told the judge on Wednesday. That strategy, he argued, “is repugnant to defense counsel and contrary to our professional obligations.”
Poppe had told the judge he and the other standby lawyers want to take over the case. And if Hasan is allowed to continue on his own, they want their roles minimized so Hasan can’t ask them for help with a strategy they oppose.
Hasan gave a brief opening statement during the trial’s first day Tuesday that included claiming responsibility for the attack that killed 13 people at the Texas military post. He posed no questions to most witnesses and rarely spoke. On one of the few times he did talk, it was to get on the record that the alleged murder weapon was his—even though no one had asked.
Sometimes he took notes, but he mostly looked forward impassively.