WASHINGTON — That something as banal as facial hair is stalling justice in the Fort Hood shooting case is frustrating some of the families of the victims.
Legal wrangling kept the court-martial against Maj. Nidal Hasan from going forward for more than 2½ years. Then late last summer, victims and their families thought they were finally going to see the Army psychiatrist stand trial for allegedly shooting more than four dozen people on Nov. 5, 2009, at the Texas base.
But Hasan’s newly grown beard has set off yet another set of delays while the court sorts out whether the judge can legally order him to shave.
“We think it’s ridiculous,” said Kim Cooke, sister to Spc. Matthew Cooke, who was shot five times. “We feel like they’re more concerned with Hasan’s rights than they are with my brother.”
Hasan grew the beard in confinement against Army grooming regulations, claiming he was following the tenets of his Muslim religion. The judge in his case ordered him forcibly shaved if he wouldn’t do so voluntarily, and that triggered a series of appeals — bringing the court-martial to its current standstill. Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
Many families said they found Hasan’s beard a mockery, and they want him held accountable to Army regulations, but they were disheartened at how much effect it had on the case.
“The beard issue is really irrelevant to what happened,” said Keely Vanacker, whose father, Michael Cahill, a civilian physician’s assistant, was killed in the shooting.
She said she was frustrated about the beard controversy, but not surprised.
“What do you expect from a murderer?” Vanacker said. “At this point, he’s doing everything he can do to be in control and make sure he can delay accountability.”
Still, Michael Cahill’s wife, Joleen, who is planning to take a leave of absence from work to attend the court-martial, said she realizes the importance of dealing with these issues now to prevent grounds for an appeal should Hasan be convicted. She is willing to put up with the delays to ensure nothing goes wrong with the case.
As the third anniversary of the shooting approaches with no trial, families are still looking for closure.
Sgt. Rex Stalnaker, who has severe PTSD from the shooting, is struggling to deal with what happened that day.
“It’s called post-traumatic stress disorder, but ours isn’t ‘post,’ ” Rex’s wife, Kathy Stalknaker, said. “He can’t put it behind him yet. He still has to face him at trial.”
Cooke said the prospect of testifying troubles her brother, and the case moving forward would bring the family some relief, knowing it would all be over soon.
“Finally having him court-martialed, I think, just starts the process,” Cooke said about closure. “It will be the very beginning of healing for our family and for a lot of families.”