Fort Hood Rampage Trial Interrupted Over Major Hasan's Lack of Defense

PHOTO: Nidal Hasan
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The trial of Major Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people and wounding dozens more in a Fort Hood shooting rampage, was temporarily halted today when a lawyer objected that Hasan was putting up no defense in an effort to get himself executed.

The lawyer's concern brings a touch of the absurd to the trial. Hasan was prevented from pleading guilty because that would have eliminated a trial and the option of a death sentence.

But his feeble defense -- in his opening statement Hasan said, "I am the shooter" -- may ultimately backfire if an appeals court finds his defense was so poor that his trial could not be considered fair.

The government has spent four years and $5 million to guarantee Hasan is given an airtight trial that concludes with a guilty verdict and the possibility of a death sentence.

Hasan is representing himself at a trial that began Tuesday in Fort Hood, Texas, just steps from the Soldier Readiness Processing Center where in 2009 he allegedly shouted "Allahu akbar" -- Arabic for "God is great" -- and opened fire on unarmed soldiers and civilians.

Hasan chose not to cross examine witnesses and raised no objections on the first day of testimony. Today before the prosecution could continue its case, Hasan's standby defense attorneys argued that he was essentially in league with the government in an effort to get himself executed.

"It is clear his goal is to remove impediments or obstacles to the death penalty and is working toward a death penalty," said Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, a military lawyer assigned to help Hasan make his case.

Poppe said he wanted to take over Hasan's defense or have his responsibilities minimized if Hasan chooses to continue representing himself.

Judge Col. Tara Osborn then cleared the courtroom and recessed the closely watched trial until Thursday morning.

Hasan is charged with the murder of 13 people and the attempted murder of 32 more. Many of the victims and their families are in the courtroom, and will be called as witnesses.

"You have these victims coming to Texas to confront a mass murderer," said Neal Sher, a lawyer representing many of the victims and their families in a separate civil suit. "They're here because they think it's important. They want to see the ultimate justice done."

Before the trial began, Hasan tried to plea guilty, an action that would have precluded the need for a trial, but also would have denied the government the chance to seek the death penalty.

The Army has spent millions on the case, paying for the paralyzed and wheelchair-bound officer to remain imprisoned at nearby Bell County jail. From the jail he is flown to the courthouse by military helicopter each day. The courthouse has been heavily reinforced, ringed by a wall of truck trailers stacked three-high and specially built sand-filled barricades.

But for all of the efforts by the Army to make sure the death penalty option is guaranteed, military lawyers say Hasan's willingness to help out may keep him from actually being executed.

The military had to go ahead with a trial despite Hasan's willingness to plea, said Victor M. Hansen, vice president of the National Institute of Military Justice, who is not involved in the case.

Military prosecutors, like civilian prosecutors, are subject to political pressure and victims' wishes, he said.

"The fact that he's representing himself isn't helping anyone," Hansen said. "He's not legally trained. He's not objecting and it complicates things. He may ultimately avoid the death penalty with this behavior."

Even if Hasan's convicted and sentenced to death, there is still a significant likelihood that he never sees the inside of a death chamber. No U.S. service member has been executed since 1961.

ABC News' Gina Sunseri contributed to this report

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