Attorneys for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz suddenly and surprisingly rested their case Wednesday after calling only a fraction of their expected witnesses, leading to a shouting match after the judge accused them of a lack of professionalism.
Cruz’s attorneys had told the judge and prosecutors they would be calling 80 witnesses but rested at the beginning of Wednesday’s court session after calling only about 25. There were 11 days of defense testimony overall, the last two spotlighting experts about how his birth mother’s heavy use of alcohol during pregnancy might have affected his brain’s development and led to his murder of 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four years ago.
The sudden announcement by lead attorney Melisa McNeill led to a heated exchange between her and Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who called the decision without warning to her or the prosecution “the most uncalled for, unprofessional way to try a case.”
The 12-member jury and 10 alternates were not present but were lining up outside the courtroom to enter. The sudden announcement also meant prosecutors weren’t ready to start their rebuttal case.
Lead prosecutor Mike Satz threw his hands up when Scherer asked if he could begin and, with a nervous laugh, said “no.”
“We’re waiting for 40 more (defense) witnesses,” Satz said.
Scherer then accused Cruz’s attorneys of being inconsiderate to all involved, but especially the jurors for wasting their trip to court.
“To have 22 people march into court and be waiting as if it is some kind of game. I have never experienced such a level of unprofessionalism in my career,” Scherer said, raising her voice.
McNeill countered angrily, “You are insulting me on the record in front of my client,” before Scherer told her to stop. Scherer then laid into McNeill, with whom she has had a testy relationship since pretrial hearings began more than three years ago.
“You’ve been insulting me the entire trial,” Scherer barked at McNeill. “Arguing with me, storming out, coming late intentionally if you don’t like my rulings. So, quite frankly, this has been long overdue. So please be seated.”
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty last October to murdering 14 Stoneman Douglas students and three staff members on Feb. 14, 2018. His trial, now ending its second month, is only to determine whether he is sentenced to death or life without parole. For a death sentence, the jury must be unanimous.
After his attorneys rested, Cruz told Scherer he agreed with the decision.
“I think we are good,” he said.
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