FORT HOOD, Texas - The U.S. Army psychiatrist charged in the 2009 Fort Hood massacre twice offered to plead guilty and "accept full responsibility" for the crime earlier this year, his lead defense attorney said Thursday.
After the government turned him down in January, Maj. Nidal Hasan offered to plead guilty again last month without a deal - and also tried to challenge Army rules that prohibit a judge from accepting a guilty plea to murder in a death penalty case, said Lt. Col. Kris Poppe.
Hasan faces a death sentence if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder, even if he decides to plead guilty to 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the 2009 attack on the Texas Army post.
The revelations about his attempts to plead guilty came before the judge, Col. Gregory Gross, ruled Hasan must be clean-shaven or have his beard forcibly shaved before his murder trial, which is on hold again because Hasan's attorneys will appeal the order.
Hasan told the judge last week that he grew a beard because his Muslim faith requires it, not as a show of disrespect. Gross said Thursday that the defense didn't prove Hasan is growing a beard for sincere religious reasons.
Hasan's attorneys discussed his attempts to plead guilty while disputing prosecutors' claims that he grew the beard this summer to make it more difficult for witnesses to identify him at his trial.
But prosecutors also said Hasan's beard might be interpreted as trying to intimidate a witness because it's a sign he's trying to affiliate with the mujahedeen, Muslim guerrilla fighters. They gave the judge a transcript of a telephone call last summer between Hasan and Al-Jazeera in which he allegedly apologized for being part of "an illegal organization" - the U.S. Army.
Beards are a violation of Army regulations, and soldiers who disobey orders to get rid of facial hair can be shaved against their will. Gross repeatedly has said Hasan's beard is a disruption to the court proceedings.
Gross has found Hasan in contempt of court at six previous pretrial hearings because he was not clean-shaven, then sent him to a nearby trailer to watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit television. But the judge allowed Hasan to remain in the courtroom for Thursday's hearing.