WAPAKONETA — We all have days where going to work seems a little more rough than others.
For U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, that conflict was on a whole new level.
Poppe discussed his job as the lead defense attorney for Maj. Nidal Hasan during the St. Marys Rotary Club meeting Wednesday. Hasan was responsible for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort hood, Texas. The attack killed 13 people and injured more than 30 others, making national headlines.
“It is one of those stunning moments for a soldier,” Poppe said.
Poppe is assigned to the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service and was assigned to Hasan’s case. He said it was extremely difficult case to handle.
“It is extraordinarily difficult to separate your personal feelings,” Poppe said, “but I am a soldier first. It was a mission I was given from a superior officer. I am not only a soldier, I am also a lawyer. You set it aside and go and fight even if it is someone who did a very bad thing.”
Hasan decided right before the trial began to defend himself. Poppe and the other lawyers to Hasan were ordered to stay on as advisers. The team asked the judge to allow them to take over Hasan’s defense, believing he was trying to secure his own death sentence. Once the trial was over, the case was officially in post-trial, which reinstalled Poppe as the lead attorney again. Once post-trial is complete, defense lawyers will have the chance to appeal if Hasan decided to do so.
Poppe said he was given a crash course on religion and culture while handling the trial. As defense lawyers for Hasan, Poppe and others were often ridiculed.
“As defense attorneys we were not liked,” Poppe said. “We received a lot of threats. We were given a mission and we did the best we could. There was a time where we had to consider moving and we had to implement a lot of security.”
As his own defense attorney, Hasan never spoke during the whole trial.
“He wanted to remove any stops to the death penalty.
Poppe said the law team questioned 970 witnesses and viewed more than 400,000 pieces of evidence in preparing for the trial. he said it makes it difficult when you look into it more deeply. Interviews included members of Hasan’s family and Hasan himself.
“You have to be able to see through that moment that puts them where they are at,” Poppe said. “Once you start you start seeing the person as a whole human. It is a very important step.”
Poppe added that Hasan’s family turned out to be “a very nice family.” While he said it is hard to guess why someone would resort to this type of violence, he said other factors may have contributed.
“He lost both of his parents within a year while he was a medical student,” Poppe said. “Living in the U.S. after 9/11 and the war in Iraq was a difficult and confusing time for him.”
Poppe also briefly discussed the Abu Ghraib incident in which he helped defend Steve Jordan, who was the only officer exonerated of charges in the detention camp incident, and the murder trial of Master Sgt. Tim Hennis. Hennis underwent three trials for the same crimes in three courtrooms. The case put constitutional questions about double jeopardy under the spotlight.
Poppe is graduate of New Bremen High School and has been in the military for 34 years.
Reach Lance Mihm at 567-242-0409 or at Twitter@LanceMihm