Updated 08/15/2012 08:33 PM
Fort Hood court proceedings on hold over beard
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Accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan was scheduled to enter a plea during a hearing on Wednesday, but before he could do so, all court proceedings were put on hold following an order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
The appellate court handed down an order Wednesday, granting the defense's request for a stay in the proceedings.
The defense filed a petition for extraordinary relief with the appellate court on Aug. 7 to prohibit the military judge presiding over Hasan's case from forcibly shaving him.
Since June, Hasan has been growing a beard and has refused to shave despite a judge's order.
The beard goes against Army grooming regulations. Military judge Col. Gregory Gross has held Hasan in contempt five times, ordering him to pay the maximum fine of $1,000 each time.
The defense has contended that Hasan is growing the beard for religious reasons as a practicing Muslim.
In previous hearings, the defense has argued that Hasan has had a premonition of his early death. According to the petition filed, he does not want to die without his beard because he feels it is a sin.
Over the last several months, Judge Gross has told the defense that he could have Hasan forcibly shaved. He also stated that the more he looked into the issue, he found not having Hasan physically present in the courtroom during his upcoming court-martial may become grounds for a reversal of the case by an appellate court somewhere down the line.
Because Hasan has refused to shave his beard, he has been forced to watch much of the court proceedings since June from a trailer located just outside the courthouse, through a closed circuit television feed.
The prosecution has until Aug. 22 to file a response to the petition.
This latest development could have an effect on the start of Hasan's court martial, scheduled to begin on Monday with military jury selection.
Prior to the stay in the proceedings, Gross took up several motions including a defense motion which questioned the constitutionality of Article 45(b) of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.
Under 45(b) an accused cannot plead guilty in capital cases where the defendant faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.
The defense questioned the constitutionality of not allowing Hasan to plead guilty, arguing that it violated Hasan's rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act if he wanted to take responsibility for religious reasons. Before the judge denied the defense motion, he said Hasan could take responsibility by entering a guilty plea.
Under 45 (b) it is the judge who is prohibited from accepting a guilty plea, and in those instances will enter a not guilty plea on his behalf.
At his arraignment back in July 2011, Hasan deferred entering a plea to 13 counts of premeditated murder, and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is the highest military appellate court. It is typically made up of five civilian judges who oversee military justice for all armed forces.