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Judge bars key motive evidence in Fort Hood trial

| Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, 8:03 p.m.

FORT HOOD, Texas — A military judge blocked several key pieces of evidence on Monday that prosecutors said would explain the mindset of the soldier accused in the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, including his belief that he had a “jihad duty” to carry out the attack.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to approve several witnesses and various evidence to support what they allege motivated Maj. Nidal Hasan to carry out the attack, which killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 at the military base.

But the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, blocked nearly all of it.

Osborn barred any reference to Hasan Akbar, a Muslim soldier sentenced to death for attacking fellow soldiers in Kuwait during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Prosecutors wanted to suggest that Hasan, an American-born Muslim, carried out a “copycat” attack.

But the judge said introducing such material would “only open the door to a mini-trial” of Akbar and result in a “confusion of issues, unfair prejudice, waste of time and undue delay.”

The judge said prosecutors couldn't introduce three emails, ruling that the needed redactions would make them irrelevant. The contents of the emails weren't disclosed, but the FBI has said Hasan sent numerous emails starting in December 2008 to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical, U.S.-born Islamic cleric killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

However, the judge will allow evidence about Internet searches on Hasan's computer around the time of the attack and websites that Hasan had listed as favorites.

Military prosecutors have said they would show that Hasan felt he had a “jihad duty,” referring to a Muslim term for a religious war or struggle. Prosecutors have called almost 80 witnesses so far, but they weren't expected to begin tackling his motive until this week.

Hasan — who is acting as his own attorney but mostly has sat in silence — could soon shed light on such questions, if prosecutors rest their case as expected this week.

In a rare move, Hasan spoke up on Monday, first to challenge the government's definition of “jihad” and, for the first time since the day testimony began, to question a witness.

Hasan briefly cross-examined Staff Sgt. Juan Alvarado, who saw a gunfight between Hasan and Kimberly Munley, one of the Fort Hood police officers who responded to the shootings. Alvarado said Hasan tried to shoot Munley after she had been shot and disarmed.

“Are you saying — and I don't want to put words in your mouth — are you saying that after it was clear that she was disarmed, I continued to fire at her?” Hasan asked.

Alvarado said that was correct.

The exchange marked the first time Hasan has questioned a witness of the shooting.

Earlier, Hasan asked that the definition of “jihad” be adjusted. Prosecutors didn't object, and jurors were told it was defined as “under Islam, the central doctrine that calls on believers to combat enemies of the religious belief.”

Hasan has spoken rarely during the trial. The judge once again urged Hasan to forgo representing himself and to allow trained attorneys to take over.

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