A military judge is considering whether to postpone the trial of the Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly Fort Hood shooting rampage.
Last week, the defense team for accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan filed a motion to push the trial date back, from June until October. On Tuesday, presiding judge Col. Gregory Gross heard defense arguments for why a four-month delay was needed.
Lead Defense Attorney Col. Kris Poppe argued that several factors make postponement of the trial necessary, including the sheer volume of discovery evidence. According to Poppe, they have received 360,000 pages of discovery to date, 60,000 of those pages received since January.
With fewer than 70 days until the scheduled June 12 trial date, Poppe said the defense team still has nearly 100,000 pages to review. While at the same time, he said they have to conduct witness interviews with limited resources. Poppe also cited issues encountered in gaining access to certain documents that contain classified information.
Poppe told the judge the delay was a 'reasonable request,' considering that without the delay the defense team will not be able to identify witnesses and fully review all documents.
The arguments were similar to those cited by the defense at a hearing in February, when they asked the judge to delay the trial which had been scheduled for March.
The prosecution opposed the motion. Its records showed some of the discovery evidence the defense claimed it had not received had actually been handed over already. Prosecutors also said that some of the other discovery evidence the defense has yet to receive includes information that is not new or shocking.
Judge Gross did not set a specific date for when he will rule on the motion.
He did deny a defense request for a Defense Initiated Victim Outreach (DIVO) expert. During the four hour long hearing, the defense and prosecution each presented three witnesses to make their case on the necessity of a DIVO expert.
Dr. Marilyn Armour took the stand for the defense. Armour is an associate professor at UT Austin's School of Social Work and director for the Institute for Restorative Justice. Armour defined the philosophy of restorative justice as a way victims of crimes can be 'directly involved in responding to the harm caused by crime'.
DIVO was presented as a way to accomplish that. She said the purpose of DIVO's victim outreach specialist is to serve as a bridge between the victims and survivors of crimes, like murder, and the defense team.
While the specialist is not considered a member of the defense team, he is an expert hired by the defense to serve as a liaison between the victim/survivors and the defense.
Armour testified that the victim outreach specialist can help victims and survivors make contact with the defense team, without having to call the defense team directly. In previous cases, Armour said they have relayed information about how angry a victim may be at the accused. Other interactions she said were strictly procedural in nature, including questions about important court dates.
However, she said these specialists are not victim advocates and do not go so far as to provide crisis counseling or accompany victims to court hearings.
DIVO Project Coordinator Stephanie Frogge also took the stand for the defense. Frogge said participation by victims and survivors is strictly voluntary. Even though not all victims and survivors may choose to use the service, the fact that the offer is made could change the dynamics.
Examples of that include reducing the tension in the courtroom, and the victim or survivor becoming less invested in the outcome of the trial. Frogge said giving the defense a mechanism to have a relationship with the victim and survivors serves as an 'incubator for other possibilities.'
The prosecution presented witnesses who testified that they believed DIVO had an 'underlying agenda.' One was Melissa Carter, a victim assistance coordinator in Brazos County. She said that she participated in a conference where DIVO was part of a breakout session. Carter said as part of the session, there were a lot of handouts that talked about 'more options for defense clients.' Since there are only two options in death penalty cases - either life or death - Carter said that led her to the conclusion that they were not in favor of the death penalty.
When asked by the prosecution whether DIVO was an anti-death penalty initiative, Armour responded that they do not take a position either for or against the death penalty. However, she said, DIVO's presence can create a dynamic that may shift the victim or survivor's position.
In the end, Judge Gross denied the defense's request for a DIVO expert because he said they failed to establish why the expert was necessary.
If convicted, Hasan could be condemned to death. He is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.