Crime /

Judge in Parkland Shooter's Sentencing Trial Refuses to Step Down

The defense team has accused Judge Elizabeth Scherer of having 'longstanding animosity' toward lead public defender Melisa McNeill

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied a motion from defense attorneys representing Nikolas Cruz requesting she step down.

Cruz pled guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October of 2021. Cruz carried out a mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It is considered the deadliest high school shooting in American history.

The jury in the current trial is tasked with deciding if Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison. To receive capital punishment, the jury must unanimously agree to the sentence for each of the 17 counts of murder. Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison for all the charges if the jury is divided.

Last week, the defense unexpectedly rested their case after calling fewer than half of their expected witnesses. The announcement threw the courtroom into a state of disorder, with Scherer and public defender Melisa McNeill getting into a heated exchange.

Scherer called McNeild’s actions unprofessional, to which McNeil accused the judge of insulting her in front of her client.

“You’ve been insulting me the entire trial,” Scherer told McNeill. “Arguing with me, storming out, coming late intentionally if you don’t like my rulings.”

With the prosecution unprepared to begin its rebuttal, the trial was delayed one week.

Cruz’s defense filed a motion on Sept. 16 to have Scherer removed from the case. In the motion, the Broward Public Defender’s Office said the judge holds “longstanding animosity” toward McNeill which has “infected” the entire trial. The lawyers also said Scherer’s criticism when their team rested their case went too far, per The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The prosecution responded by saying Scherer had not disclosed any animosity toward McNeil and that she had been respectful to both sides. 

On Sept. 19, Scherer dismissed the motion – calling it “legally insufficient.”

She also said she will issue written rulings in response to two additional motions made by the defense. 

The first limits the extent to which prosecutors can address the swastikas and hate speech found in Cruz’s possessions and correspondence,” reports The Sun Sentinel. “The second challenges a new expert witness who, defense lawyers say, will not be available for a pre-trial interview until Friday, giving the defense team no time to prepare for an effective cross-examination.

The state’s rebuttal is scheduled to begin on Sept. 24.

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