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Fort Hood suspect to face death penalty, regardless of plea

FORT HOOD, Texas — The Army psychiatrist charged in the Fort Hood shooting rampage still faces the death penalty if convicted in the worst mass shooting on a US military installation, a judge ruled Wednesday.

A trial date was not set for Major Nidal Hasan, whose lawyers say he wants to plead guilty to 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the 2009 attack on the Texas Army post.

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The judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, said she would consider Hasan’s motion at a hearing next month, but Army rules prohibit judges from accepting guilty pleas in death penalty cases.

Under the military justice system, a commanding general decides if the death penalty will be sought, and plea bargains in capital cases are not allowed.

Hasan’s attorneys have filed motions indicating that if his current guilty plea is not accepted, he instead will plead guilty to unpremeditated murder, which does not carry the death penalty. Even if the judge accepts Hasan’s guilty pleas to lesser charges, Hasan still would face a death sentence if prosecutors decide to move forward with the trial and jurors convict him on his original charges, military law experts said.

‘‘I’m 100 percent confident that the prosecutors would go forward with a trial,’’ said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. He is not involved in Hasan’s case. ‘‘They’ve been preparing this case for three years, and they’re ready. And the families deserve justice. This is a death penalty case.’’

Hasan faces execution or life in military prison without parole if convicted.

Hasan, 42, paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the rampage, had a thick black beard as he sat in his wheelchair by his attorneys Wednesday.

Defense lawyers had argued that he should be spared a possible death sentence because the military justice system’s process for deciding capital cases is unfair and inconsistent.

They also say Fort Hood’s commanding general was not impartial when he decided in July 2011 that Hasan would face the death penalty.

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