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Fort Hood shooting hearing opens, then adjourns

From Chris Lawrence and Charley Keyes, CNN
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Hasan heads to military court
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Suspect Nidal Hasan wears his Army uniform and a knit cap as he is wheeled into court
  • The presiding officer rejects a defense request to exclude the public from the hearing
  • Hasan is charged with 13 murder counts
  • The hearing will determine if Hasan is court-martialed, which could lead to death penalty

Fort Hood, Texas (CNN) -- The military opened a hearing Tuesday for Maj. Nidal Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist accused of last year's Fort Hood shootings, then adjourned it almost immediately.

Hasan is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32 in a shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas.

The hearing will determine whether Hasan will be court-martialed -- which could potentially lead to the death penalty.

Col. James Pohl, who is presiding over the hearing, rejected a defense request to close the hearing to the public, then adjourned to consider a defense request to delay the hearing until November because of a scheduling conflict.

It will continue Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. (10 a.m. ET), he ruled. The defense has until midnight to submit its argument to Pohl for delaying the hearing until November 8, said retired Lt. Col. Thomas Rheinlander, a Fort Hood spokesman.

Hasan, 40, was brought on base under tight security and entered the courtroom in a wheelchair. He is paralyzed from the upper chest down after civilian police shot him four times during the incident.

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Hasan looked alert, "but when they wheeled him in, he gripped the sides of his wheelchair to make sure he didn't fall out. His legs were strapped to the chair," said NPR reporter Wade Goodwyn.

Goodwyn was one of 10 journalists chosen by lottery to be in the court. CNN was on the base but not in the court.

Hasan wore his Army fatigues uniform and a knit cap to help regulate his body temperature due to the paralysis, Goodwyn said.

Family members of two victims were also in court, including Jessica Hansen, whose fiance, Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler, was severely injured in the shooting. He is still in the hospital being treated for his injuries.

Family members leaned forward to watch Hasan come in, but neither they nor Hasan showed much emotion, the NPR reporter told CNN.

When the hearing gets under way, there will be graphic accounts of what happened during the shooting, but Goodwyn said "today's testimony -- all related to procedures and such -- wasn't the type anyone would emotionally react to."

During the proceeding, called an Article 32 hearing, officials will consider the evidence against Hasan and decide whether the case will move forward to a court-martial.

Both the defense and prosecution can present witnesses and evidence.

Army prosecutors have refused to speak publicly about the case or release a witness list. They are expected to call every person wounded in the shootings, as well as others, to provide a second-by-second account of what happened on November 5, 2009.

John Galligan, Hasan's civilian attorney, had wanted the hearing closed to the public, but his motion was denied.

Hasan, a U.S.-born citizen of Palestinian descent, faces 13 counts of first-degree murder for allegedly opening fire at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood, killing 12 soldiers and a civilian. He also is charged with 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder for the 30 military personnel and two civilians wounded at the center, where soldiers prepare to deploy for Afghanistan and Iraq.

The shootings at the nation's largest Army post, in central Texas between Dallas and San Antonio, shocked the nation and raised questions about whether a so-called homegrown terrorist had operated within the military system without detection.

The Article 32 hearing is not expected to provide answers to why Hasan, who had communicated with a known Islamic extremist and made anti-U.S. comments, was promoted nonetheless.

At the time of the shootings, Hasan was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan, military officials said.

The FBI has said it was aware of communication between Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric who has promoted jihad against the United States and other Western countries. But investigators had determined those contacts were "consistent with research being conducted by Maj. Hasan."

Clerics at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia -- which Hasan attended when he lived in the area -- described him as a loner.

Shaikh Shaker Elsayed said they were not successful in finding him a wife, and Imam Johari Abdul-Malik said some people believed Hasan changed after his mother's death in 2001.

Legal jockeying so far indicates the Article 32 hearing will be contentious. Last week, Galligan said he instructed Hasan not to cooperate with a government-ordered psychiatric evaluation.

Col. Morgan Lamb, the officer overseeing the case, had indicated in January that the military would not "meet with, test or examine" Hasan until after the Article 32 hearing.

But in a recent memo obtained by CNN, Lamb said he reversed his decision after the defense said in court last month that it may introduce mental capacity evidence for consideration in the case.

Galligan denied the defense had made such a statement.

The hearing could stretch into November, with the prosecution set to present its case through October 29, followed by a one-week recess when Fort Hood will mark the first anniversary of the shootings, referred to by some as "5/11."

For Jessica Hansen, the fiance of wounded Staff Sgt. Zeigler, the hearing will be the first step of what she believes will be a long process to bring justice to the victims.

With all the attention on Hasan as the hearing approached, she said she "cringed" at how some of those wounded in the shootings struggled alone and unnoticed.

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

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