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Hasan found in contempt for 6th time

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Accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan spoke up during a hearing on Thursday, to defend his decision to grow a beard.

His statement in court came during a contempt proceeding, when Military Judge Col. Gregory Gross asked Hasan if he had anything to add before he made a decision if Hasan should be held in contempt.

Prior to Thursday's hearing, Hasan had been held in contempt five times for 'willfully disobeying' an order by Gross to be clean shaven.

In all previous contempt proceedings, Hasan's lawyers have spoken on his behalf.

But on this day, Hasan said, "In the name of the all mighty Allah," as a Muslim he believed his religion required him to wear a beard.

Hasan went on to say he was not trying to disrupt the court or disrespect the judge, and closed his statements by saying, "When I stand before God, I am individually responsible for my actions."

Hasan started growing the beard back in June which is a violation of Army grooming standards. Since then, he has refused to shave despite the judge's order.

The prosecution has argued that Hasan's facial hair is a distraction in court, while the defense has asserted Hasan's rights to keep the beard under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.

Following Hasan's statement Gross found Hasan in contempt for the sixth time, ordering him to pay a fine which now totals $6,000, ordering he be taken out of the courtroom.

Hasan's beard has continued to be a point of contention and focus of hearings since June.

On several occasions over the last two months, Judge Gross told the defense if Hasan did not shave before the start of his court martial, the judge could order Hasan be forcibly shaved.

The judge's authority to have Hasan forcibly shaved was called into question by the defense.

In early August, the defense filed a petition for extraordinary relief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF), which is the highest military court.

In the petition, the defense asked for a stay in the proceedings until the appellate court ruled on whether Gross had the power to have Hasan shaven forcibly.

During the last hearing on Aug. 15, the appellate court granted the defense request to halt all proceedings, effectively pushing back the start of Hasan's court martial which was scheduled to begin on Aug. 20.

Once the government filed its response to the defense's petition, the appellate court handed down its ruling on Monday.

The appellate court did not rule on the question of Gross' authority because the court found a ruling on the issue be premature since Gross had not officially handed down an order to have Hasan shaven.

The issue of Hasan's beard will once again be taken up during a hearing scheduled for next Thursday.

That is when the defense will try to make its case as to why Hasan should be able to keep his beard under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.

Both the defense and prosecution may call witnesses to make their case.

Depending on how the arguments for each side play out, the judge may at that time officially enter an order for Hasan to be forcibly shaven.

At that point the proceedings will come to a halt again, so the defense has an opportunity to file a writ with the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals to challenge the judge's order.

From there the issue may again go before a panel of civilian judges with CAAF.

Even after the issue of Hasan's beard is resolved, Hasan will still have to to enter a plea to the 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder, before a court martial can begin.

During Thursday's hearing, both the defense and prosecution brought several motions before the judge related to the processes and procedures that will be used to determine what type of evidence will be allowed to be presented to panel members during opening statements and sentencing.

Among the defense motions was a request to implement requirements and procedures before the prosecution is allowed to present victim impact evidence.

Lead defense attorney Kris Poppe argued that testimony by the witness can have a big impact on a jury or panel when determining a sentence of either death of life in prison.

Poppe cited a study which found that the sentence accessed by a panel varied greatly depending on the use of victim impact evidence. In the study, Poppe said two separate panels heard the same facts and evidence of the exact same case. Of the panel members who heard victim impact testimony, 62 percent voted for the death penalty. He said that is opposed to 17 percent of panel members who voted for death when no victim impact evidence was introduced, given the otherwise exact same facts and evidence in the case.

The prosecution argued that there is no authority in the military justice system which would allow the defense to do what the defense was asking the judge to do.

Lead prosecutor Col. Michael Mulligan said it was an attempt by the defense "to shield him (Hasan) from what he did."

The judge reserved ruling on the motion.

There were several other motions which were not completely addressed in court, including the prosecution's request to use exhibits during their opening statements.

The defense successfully made their case, that their argument challenging the prosecution's motion on the exhibits will greatly differ depending on the pleas Hasan will enter.

Hasan deferred entering a plea during his arraignment in July 2011.

As part of the military justice system, Hasan can plead guilty to the charges, however the judge is prohibited from accepting a guilty plea for death penalty eligible counts.

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