Accused wants toupee

M.R. Kropko and M.R. Kropko

CLEVELAND – A man accused of going on a shooting rampage at Case Western Reserve University 2 1/2 years ago is allowed to use a toupee to relieve concerns about his appearance and jail guards must let him shave and get a haircut, a trial judge said.

In a motions hearing before jury selection began yesterday, a lawyer for defendant Biswanath Halder asked the judge to order jail officials to make sure he is well groomed and sought permission to get the balding, 65-year-old man a hair piece.

Attorney John Luskin said Halder has complained that he is not comfortable appearing before a jury without a hair piece that was among items seized as evidence after he was arrested following a seven-hour siege May 9, 2003.

Judge Peggy Foley Jones ruled he could not have it back but allowed Luskin to find out whether a toupee that fits him can be obtained. She also ordered that jail officials make sure he can receive a shave and haircut before he appears before a jury.

Halder is charged with 338 felony counts, including aggravated murder and terrorism. If convicted, Halder could be sentenced to the death penalty.

Norman Wallace, 30, a student from Youngstown, was shot dead shortly after Halder allegedly entered the winding hallways of the modern and artistic Peter B. Lewis Building of the university’s Weatherhead School of Management. Halder apparently did not know Wallace.

A faculty member and another student were wounded. Witnesses saw a gunman dressed in body armor, a wig, an army helmet and carrying two semiautomatic weapons and ammunition while shooting randomly. Evidence in the trial includes a security video.

A group of Cleveland police officers arrested Halder on the building’s top floor. He was hospitalized briefly with gunshot wounds and remains in jail.

The jury will be selected from a pool of at least 60 potential jurors. They had to fill out an extensive questionnaire, which was not publicly released.

Assistant County Prosecutor Rick Bell said Halder attacked the business school because he believed a computer lab employee had hacked into his Web site. Halder, who graduated from Case in 1999 with a master’s degree in business administration, has repeatedly said information he considered vital to his own life’s work was destroyed.