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Fort Hood shooting suspect's defense strategy could slow trial

By Don Bolding

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - The military trial of accused Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan hit a snag on Tuesday when lawyers ordered to help him told the judge he was making requests they could not ethically satisfy.

Hasan, who faces 13 charges of first-degree murder, had been expected to outline his defense line - that he was protecting the Taliban when he opened fire on dozens of people at Fort Hood in 2009 in the worst shooting rampage on a U.S. military post.

But proceedings were delayed by a day when the military judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, gave the attorneys helping Hasan, who represents himself, until midday Wednesday to explain under seal why they could not provide all the assistance sought by the accused.

She did not hear arguments Tuesday on his "defense of others" strategy, which would require court approval, or on Hasan's request for a three-month delay in the trial that is scheduled to start July 1.

Hasan, 42, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, could face the death penalty if convicted of premeditated murder on charges he killed 13 people and wounded 32. He sought the delay to change strategy and revise his witness list.

Neal Sher, a New York-based lawyer who represents Fort Hood shooting victims, said Tuesday it appeared that Hasan was "just playing" the judicial system.

"It has really become a theater of the absurd," Sher said.

Osborn on June 3 granted Hasan's request to represent himself in the trial. She ordered the attorneys he fired to provide legal assistance.

Hasan told Osborn last week he was defending Afghanistan, the Taliban and its leader Mullah Omar when he fired on soldiers in a readiness facility, many of whom were getting ready to deploy to Iraq.

At the time of the shooting, Fort Hood was a major deployment point for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hasan had been preparing to leave for Afghanistan with a unit assigned to help soldiers deal with mental issues when authorities said he opened fire on a medical station.

He has not explained how his actions might be construed as protection of the Taliban.

Sergeant Alonzo Lunsford, who was shot five times during the attack and lost sight in his right eye, expressed frustration at the repeated delays in the case.

"Throughout this whole process, he's been treated like he is the victim, and we have been treated as if we really don't matter," Lunsford told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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