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July 16, 2013

Death penalty an issue for potential jurors

FORT HOOD, Texas — Prosecutors asked Monday that three Army officers be dismissed as potential jurors in the murder trial of the Fort Hood shooting suspect because of their views on the death penalty.

Six potential jurors — four colonels and two lieutenant colonels — were brought in from Army posts nationwide and overseas as questioning continued in the court-martial of Maj. Nidal Hasan. The Army psychiatrist faces execution or life in prison without parole if convicted in the 2009 rampage that left 13 dead and nearly three dozen wounded on the Texas Army post.

Two of those officers indicated they opposed the death penalty, while a third said he strongly favored it. Prosecutors want all three tossed from the jury pool.

The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, said she would rule on the request today. Strongly opposing or supporting the death penalty doesn’t disqualify someone from jury service, though potential jurors who indicate they would refuse to consider or automatically impose execution will be dismissed.

One colonel brought out for individual questioning said he struggled with the death penalty issue over moral and religious grounds.

“I question whether fallible human beings can impose death on other human beings,” he told said, adding that he already believes that Hasan is guilty.

Hasan is serving as his own attorney but has asked only a few questions of potential jurors, including asking another colonel on Monday whether he would be disobeying God or his church by imposing the death penalty. The colonel, who earlier said he believed, “thou shalt not kill,” told Hasan that was a difficult question.

A third colonel said he would not always vote to impose a death sentence for certain crimes, although he had indicated he would do so on his jury questionnaire. He also said he believed Hasan is guilty.

Hasan’s jury will be comprised of 13 to 16 members with ranks equal to his or higher. Death-penalty cases in the military require at least 12 jurors, more than in other cases. And unlike other trials, their verdict must be unanimous in finding guilt or assessing a sentence.

Ten potential jurors remain from a group of 20 questioned last week, when jury selection began. Testimony is expected to start Aug. 6.

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