Judge’s licks criticized; Defense attorneys end case for Parkland school shooter

The defense listed 80 witnesses but called only 26 in its bid to spare Nikolas Cruz the death penalty.

Witnesses included friends of his birth mother and adoptive mother, as well as teachers and counselors Cruz interacted with as a child.

Their final witness, a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder expert, testified that Cruz’s birth mother drank more alcohol than any other woman he had documented.

After that pundit, the defense team decided the jury had heard enough, prompting a lick from Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer.

“I just want to say this is the most unwarranted and unprofessional way to judge a case,” she told lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill.

When McNeill tried to explain herself, Scherer cut her off.

“You insulted me throughout the trial. So openly take off your headphones by arguing with me, storming out, intentionally coming late if you don’t like my decisions. So, quite frankly, this was long overdue. So please sit down,” the judge said.

The judge’s outburst is unlikely to affect the progress of the trial, but could be mooted if the conviction is appealed.

Craig Trocino directs the Law Innocence Clinic at the University of Miami, he is not directly involved in the case but followed it closely.

“Jurisprudence designates a judge as the cold neutrality of an impartial magistrate,” he said. “And I understand that in these cases, it’s stressful, tense, and things can blow up. But judges have to recognize that they are responsible for the courtroom.

Bob Jarvis is a law professor at Nova Southeastern University. Like Trocino, he is not involved in the affair but followed it.

“Let her say it was unprofessional, let her say it was a long time coming – her stunt with them is mind blowing,” he said.

He says the abrupt ending means defense attorneys are confident they have presented enough evidence to prevent Nikolas Cruz from escaping death row.

“You always want to rest at the point when you feel you’ve made your point and nothing more will start to alienate the jury or lose the jury. …. And then, of course, it’s possible that the defense was concerned that these additional witnesses would talk about things that would be very damaging when prosecutors had a chance to cross-examine them.

The defense case relied heavily on the decisions of others, starting with Cruz’s biological mother, Brenda Woodard. Woodard drank heavily during her pregnancy, which caused Cruz to develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, according to expert testimony.

Defense attorneys interviewed a friend of Woodard’s, who died last year, and her daughter. Danielle Woodard, Cruz’s half-sister testified that she saw her drinking and using drugs while she was pregnant with Cruz.

Cruz’s attorneys took a chronological approach in tracing his troubled life. He had behavioral problems and difficulties communicating at school. He bit other children, had difficulty walking and acted like a wild animal in class.

By the time he reached middle school, Cruz became more menacing. Carrie Yon, one of his teachers at West Glades College, testified that he was obsessed with guns and violence and told him he “was a bad boy” and “wanted to kill”.

The final witness called by defense attorneys was Dr. Kenneth Jones, a former medical school professor at the University of California, San Diego, who did some of the pioneering research on fetal alcohol abuse there. 50 years ago.

He examined Cruz after his arrest and testified that his examination showed fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, but not fetal alcohol syndrome. Part of the difference is that Cruz did not have the physical characteristics of someone with fetal alcohol syndrome, possibly delaying treatment or diagnosis.

Prosecutors pushed back when Jones said Cruz allegedly struggled to plan and organize. Cruz had researched police response times to school shootings and the different types of firearms he could use, according to internet research presented by prosecutors.

The trial will resume with the state’s rebuttal brief on September 27.

After that, both sides will present their closing arguments and the jury will deliberate on the 17 counts of murder and decide whether or not to impose the death penalty on Cruz.

The jury must be unanimous for Cruz to receive the death penalty. If the defense can convince a juror to vote for life in prison, then it will be worth it.

Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

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