The Army major charged in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage will be allowed to continue representing himself after the legal team assisting him claimed he was trying to receive the death penalty.
Judge Col. Tara Osborn halted proceedings Wednesday morning when the team assisting Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan asked to withdraw from the case, citing Hasan's opening statement where he openly stated that he was the shooter.
"This is nothing more than their disagreement with Major Hasan's strategy in conducting his defense," said Osborn. She would not allow the assisting team to drop out of the case.
Hasan's legal team has been largely limited to helping file motions and coaching with proceedings, reported CNN. Hasan intended to plead guilty to murder and attempted murder charges, but military law requires a not guilty plea in death penalty cases.
"It becomes clear that his goal is to remove impediments and obstacles and is working towards a death penalty," said Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, head of the legal team.
Prosecutor Col. Michael Mulligan was supportive of Hasan's strategy, reported the Associated Press. He said Hasan had appeared to merely offer up an alternative reason about why the incident occurred.
"I'm really perplexed as to how it's caused such a moral dilemma," Mulligan said.
The case was scheduled to start last year, but was held off due to a dispute in which the previous judge banned Hasan from the courtroom for having grown a beard, contrary to military regulations. Experts say the case is unusually complex because of the military's unfamiliarity with death penalty cases and a history for avoiding overturned sentences.
Texas Tech University law professor Richard Rosen said the case presents a catch-22 for the judge: if Osborn allows Hasan to defend himself, she could be seen as denying Hasan help from more experienced attorneys, but if she does the opposite, she could have denied him the right to defend himself.
"They don't want this case to be reversed on appeal, Rosen said. "The worst thing that can happen would be to retry the case all over again."
Hasan is charged with killing 13 and injuring more than 30 others in the November 2009 Texas shooting. If Hasan receives the death penalty, he will be the first person to be put to death by the military in five decades.