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Parkland trial: School shooter’s defense team asks judge to step down


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The ongoing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz faced a messy situation in court on Monday, which culminated in the defense team’s request that the judge be disqualified from the case.

On Monday, lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill asked Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer to step aside from the case amid a dispute over the conduct of the ongoing jury selection process. , according to court documents.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks in court during the penalty phase of the trial of high school shooter Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, June 6, 2022.
(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Although Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the murder of his classmates and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, the trial has not yet completed its jury selection process.

The dispute in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., courtroom began when a member of the defense team, attorney Casey Secor, was out of the courtroom with an unspecified illness. His team said he was “in quarantine”, WPLG reported.

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The judge wanted the court to continue asking potential jurors for their thoughts on the death penalty, which could potentially disqualify them from the jury in the case, but the defense team was unwilling to continue the process without Secor in the room of hearing.

Secor was specifically hired to help with the jury selection process and he is the only other member of the defense team with experience in death penalty cases, according to the report.

Parkland trial: School shooter’s defense team asks judge to step down

Deputy Public Defender Melisa McNeill during the penalty phase of the trial of high school shooter Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, June 6, 2022.
(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Instead of continuing, the defense team then asked Scherer if the court could spend Monday asking jurors about general hardship.

The judge refused.

“I’m not comfortable moving forward without him, Judge,” McNeill said, WPLG reported.

“Well, you’re going to have to,” Scherer said in response, according to the report. “Your client has the right to have a trusted attorney. Your client does not have the right to have all the attorneys.”

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McNeill told the judge she was faced with a decision to disobey the court or move forward without her entire team and asked to remove the defense team from the case entirely.

“Judge, at that time the defense would withdraw from the Florida State case against Nikolas Cruz,” McNeill said, WPLG reported. “At this time, if I fail to comply with the court order and protect Mr. Cruz’s constitutional rights to due process, I must now determine whether my freedom is going to be threatened or whether Mr. Cruz is going to be in danger.”

The defense attorney also claimed that failing to provide his client with the best possible service could impact his own career.

“I will also have to consider whether or not my law degree may be affected, which would impact my ability to raise my children, feed my children and educate my children,” McNeill reportedly added.

According to the report, Judge Scherer “respectfully” denied the motion and stayed the court.

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When she returned, prosecutor Carolyn McCann asked the judge if they could ask potential jurors about the hardships — not their views on the death penalty — as there were only a few hours left in the day. Scherer agreed, although he had insisted earlier in the day on moving the court forward.

McNeill then entered the courtroom with a “motion to disqualify” against Judge Scherer, asking her to step aside from the case, according to court documents.

The judge also refused this request.

Parkland trial: School shooter’s defense team asks judge to step down

Marjory Stoneman High School shooter Douglas Nikolas Cruz listens to Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, June 6, 2022.
(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

According to the report, the defense team was also concerned that recent shooting incidents, including the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, would affect a jury’s opinion of the case, and they wanted a extra day to question the impartiality of the jurors.

“To continue this trial for a reasonable period of time to allow the tide of emotion surrounding the recent mass shootings to subside so that Mr. Cruz can be tried by a jury free from bias and prejudice against him for events that are not relevant to his crime, background, character or life,” the motion reads, according to WPLG.

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The Robb Elementary School shooting “opened old wounds for the Broward County community and heightened anxiety for Broward students and parents,” the defense added.

Parkland trial: School shooter’s defense team asks judge to step down

Parkland School shooter Nikolas Cruz sits at the defense table before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to all four counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018.
(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Judge Scherer hopes to have 150 potential jurors for the next phase of questioning, although only 35 have moved forward. About 95 were rejected.

The hearing is scheduled to resume on Tuesday, June 7.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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