Attorneys for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz suddenly and surprisingly rested their case on September 14, 2022 after calling only a fraction of their expected witnesses, leading to a shouting match after the judge accused them of a lack of professionalism, reported The Associated Press.
Cruz’s attorneys had told the judge and prosecutors they
would be calling 80 witnesses but rested at the beginning the 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
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.
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