The military judge who ordered the Fort Hood shooting suspect's beard to be forcibly shaved has been thrown off the case, but the ruling ends lengthy delays in the trial of the Army officer charged with the 2009 rampage that killed 13 people.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled Monday that Col. Gregory Gross did not appear impartial while presiding over the case of Maj. Nidal Hasan. Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted in the 2009 shootings on the Texas Army post that killed 13 people and wounded more than two dozen others.
The court said it was not ruling on whether the judge's order violated Hasan's religious rights. Hasan has argued that his beard is a requirement of his Muslim faith, although facial hair violates Army regulations.
"Should the next military judge find it necessary to address (Hasan's) beard, such issues should be addressed and litigated anew," judges wrote in the ruling.
Fort Hood officials said late Monday that proceedings in the case will resume after a new judge is appointed by the Army's highest legal branch. That indicates Army prosecutors will not appeal Monday's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hasan appealed after Gross ordered that he must be clean-shaven or be forcibly shaved before his military trial, which had been set to begin three months ago. It has been on hold pending the appeals.
An Army appeals court upheld the shaving requirement in October. But Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces said the command, not the judge, is responsible for enforcing grooming standards.
Gross had repeatedly said Hasan's beard was a disruption to the court proceedings, but the military appeals court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to show that was true.
Gross 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. The appeals court's ruling also vacated the contempt of court convictions.
At a June hearing, lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe said the judge showed a bias against Hasan when he asked defense attorneys to clean up a court restroom after Gross found a medical waste bag, adult diaper and what appeared to be feces on the floor after a previous hearing. Hasan, who is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the shootings, has to wear adult diapers — but the mess in the restroom that day was mud from a guard's boots, Poppe said.
"In light of these rulings, and the military judge's accusations regarding the latrine, it could reasonably appear to an objective observer that the military judge had allowed the proceedings to become a duel of wills between himself and (Hasan) rather than an adjudication of the serious offenses with which (Hasan) is charged," judges wrote in the ruling.