FORT LAUDERDALE, FL. – Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s attorneys asked the judge in his murder case to recuse himself Friday, two days after she barked at them when they abruptly dropped the case after calling only a fraction of the expected witnesses.
A filing by the Broward Public Defender’s Office said District Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer had a long-standing animosity toward lead attorney Melissa McNeil.
The motion cited the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, which states that a judge must recuse himself when the judge’s impartiality may reasonably be questioned, including, but not limited to, cases where the judge has personal bias or bias in against a party or a party’s attorney. Defense attorneys said Scherer’s repeated improper and unwarranted attacks on the attorney undermined public confidence in the judicial system and caused Cruz to fear he would not receive a fair trial.
In response, prosecutors said Scherer treated both sides with respect.
Cruz’s lawyers told the judge and prosecutors they would call 80 witnesses, but surprisingly rested at the start of Wednesday’s trial, calling only about 25 of them.
In all, there were 11 days of testimony for the defense, the last two focusing on how his mother’s heavy drinking during pregnancy may have affected his brain development and led him to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland four years ago. .
Lead counsel McNeil’s sudden announcement led to a heated argument between her and Scherer, who called the decision, without warning to either her or the prosecutor’s office, “the most unnecessary, unprofessional way to handle a case.”
The 12-member jury and 10 alternates were not present, but lined up outside the courtroom to enter. The sudden statement also meant that prosecutors were not ready to launch their rebuttal.
Scherer then accused Cruz’s lawyers of being disrespectful to everyone involved, but especially to the jurors, for wasting a trip to court.
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty last October to the killings of 14 Stoneman Douglas students and three staff members on Feb. 14, 2018. His trial, now in its second month, must only determine whether to sentence him to the death penalty or life without parole. . . The jury must be unanimous in order to impose a death sentence.
After his attorneys rested, Cruz told Scherer he agreed with the decision.
Prosecutors said they would need more than a week to prepare their rebuttal. The court is tentatively scheduled to resume on September 27 and end the week of October 10.
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