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Former attorney general Clark may defend accused Fort Hood gunman

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark holds a discussion on the probability of a death or life sentence for Saddam Hussein in Washington
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark holds a discussion on the probability of a death or life sentence for Saddam Hussein in Washington

By Don Bolding

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - Former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark has offered to represent a U.S. army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 at his upcoming trial, they both said on Tuesday.

Major Nidal Hasan, who is charged with premeditated murder and attempted murder and faces a possible death sentence if convicted, refused to enter a plea on Tuesday. The military judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, entered "not guilty" pleas for him.

Clark, 85, who was attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson and has opposed the death penalty since he was a child, said he had not spoken to Hasan yet, but expected to do so on Tuesday or Wednesday.

"I made an offer to assist in any way I could," Clark told Reuters in a brief telephone interview, adding that the discussion with Hasan would occur by phone.

Hasan asked for and was granted permission to represent himself at the trial for the November 2009 rampage in which 13 people died and 32 others were wounded. He asked Osborn on Tuesday for three days to decide whether Clark should represent him.

Osborn rejected Hasan's request for additional time, but said Hasan could accept outside representation as long as the attorneys were ready for the start of jury selection on July 9.

Under U.S. military law, a death sentence may be imposed only by a unanimous vote of a 12-person jury. In this case, the jury will consist of 12 Army officers of superior rank to Hasan.

Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to begin no earlier than August 6.

Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim, was shot by civilian post police during the attack at a readiness facility at Fort Hood where soldiers were preparing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. He is paralyzed from the chest down.

Fort Hood was a major deployment point for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Hasan himself had been preparing to leave for Afghanistan with a unit assigned to help soldiers deal with mental issues.

The trial has been delayed several times, most recently for Osborn to decide whether Hasan could represent himself and whether he could argue at trial that he was defending the Afghan Taliban when he opened fire.

Osborn has appointed Hasan's former defense attorneys to advise him on procedural issues and to be ready to step back in as his lawyers if necessary. She rejected his request to use a "defense of others" argument at trial.

(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio and David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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