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Fort Hood suspect's beard raises bias questions

Associated Press Modified: October 11, 2012 at 4:46 pm •  Published: October 11, 2012
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FORT BELVOIR, Va. (AP) — An Army appeals court on Thursday questioned whether a military judge exceeded his authority in ordering the suspect in the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, to remove his beard or be forcibly shaved.

Judges on the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals in northern Virginia also delved into a claim by Maj. Nidal Hasan's lawyers that the military judge who issued the order is biased and should be replaced. The American-born Muslim psychiatrist claims he grew his beard for religious reasons.

Hasan's murder trial in Texas is on hold while his lawyers pursue the appeal. Hasan, 42, faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack that killed 13 people and wounded more than two dozen others at the Army post about 130 miles southwest of Dallas.

Hasan's attorneys also want the appeals court to overturn six contempt-of-court rulings Col. Gregory Gross issued against Hasan for having a beard at pretrial hearings this past summer, when he first showed up in court with facial hair.

Army grooming standards prohibit beards but allow for religious exceptions. Gross denied Hasan's request for such an exception. He found that Hasan's claims of religious sincerity did not outweigh prosecutor's arguments that Hasan grew the beard just before his August trial date so witnesses wouldn't be able to identify him in court.

Six of the seven judges on the appeals court questioned lawyers for both sides Thursday, mainly about the limits of Gross' authority and the perception of impartiality.

Defense attorney Capt. Kristin McGrory said military judges have no authority to order forcible shaving. She said military regulations authorize it for inmates only for safety and health reasons.

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