FORT LOWDERDALE, Florida (AP) – On Monday, a judge rejected an attempt by lawyers for Florida-based school shooter Nicholas Cruz to bar the parents and other relatives of his 17 victims from testifying to a jury about the trauma of the killings to their lives.
Cruz’s public defenders wanted District Judge Elizabeth Scherer to read the victim’s statements aloud by a neutral third party or be video-lost to a jury who would decide early next year whether he would be sentenced to death or life without parole. Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty to the February 2018 murders in October at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Lawyer Tamara Curtis said that allowing parents and others to speak directly to the jury could lead to “overly emotional displays” that would violate Cruise’s constitutional right to a fair trial.
But Scherer agreed with prosecutors, who said the statements would be written ahead of time and passed on to Cruise’s lawyers before the parents read them to the jury. The judge and prosecutors said the defense would have the opportunity to object if they felt that what was said would be unfairly inflammatory. Scherer has already ordered that parents or others should not be able to call Cruise with phrases such as “animal” or “that thing.”
“The defendant is seeking to ensure that the victims in this case are neutralized, and they should not be. They have the right under Florida law … to be heard and they have the right to express their feelings, ”said Assistant Attorney Carolyn McCann.
She said prosecutors had no incentive to let their parents say anything about Cruz that would lead to the overturning of the death sentence.
“Nobody wants to do it again,” McCann said.
For Cruz to be sentenced to death, the 12-member jury must unanimously agree. If someone disagrees, they will receive a life sentence. The selection of the jury was supposed to start next month, but now it is unlikely to start earlier than February or March. The lawsuit has been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and controversy over what evidence and testimony will be allowed.