Parkland school shooter to judge on defense resting case: ‘I think we are good’
After the Parkland school shooter’s defense team introduced a causal connection between a motive for criminal behavior and a mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy on Tuesday, the defense rested their case on Wednesday morning.
Nikolas Cruz told the court that he would not be taking the stand and that he understood that by allowing his defense to rest his brother, Zachary Cruz, would not be testifying. The prosecution presented a list his defense had introduced with 2,000 witnesses.
“I don’t know who those people are,” Cruz said later adding, “I think we are good … I think we are fine.”
Prosecutors said they had expected the defense to have more witnesses, so they needed time to prepare for the next stage of the penalty phase. Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann said they would be ready for rebuttal by Sept. 27 and be ready for closing statements after the first week of October.
Chief Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill agreed. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer was concerned about delays.
“We have a pregnant juror, very pregnant,” Scherer told attorneys.
The defense needs only one of the 12 jurors to oppose the death sentence to keep Cruz away from execution. Scherer said the Broward Sheriff’s Office will be preparing to sequester the jury during deliberations in October. Scherer asked the jurors to avoid doing research online or at any of the sites.
“If your deliberations take longer than a day … then you will be taken to a secure location by the Sheriff’s Office. You will feel like you are the president of the United States,” Scherer told the jury adding, “Nobody knows where you are, except you and the Sheriff’s Office.”
The defense team called 26 witnesses in 11 days, including Carolyn Deakins and Danielle Woodard, who both testified about Cruz’s biological mother’s drug and alcohol use while pregnant. Prosecutors rested their case on Aug. 4, after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, including the 17 survivors injured.
On Tuesday, the prosecution attacked the reliability of the test results by Paul Connor, a neuropsychologist, and a diagnosis by Dr. Kenneth Lyons Jones, a pediatrician and academic researcher who is known as the “Father of fetal alcohol syndrome” for coining the term in 1973.
The prosecution also took issue with the experts not taking into account the evidence of the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, including Cruz’s video confession and surveillance video of the crimes, when they made their assessments.
After Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October 2021, the trial’s penalty phase moved forward with only two possible sentences: Life in prison without the possibility of parole or execution.
McNeill delivered her opening statement on Aug. 22 and later said on Aug. 23 in court that her team had over 80 witnesses to call. After McNeill changed her mind, Scherer referred to her as “unprofessional.” They both accused each other of resorting to insults.
Attorney David Weinstein, a partner with Jones Walker Waechter in Miami, is not working on Cruz’s case, but he has been following it closely. The former federal and state prosecutor said there is always the possibility that a death sentence can be overturned during the appellate process.
“They are arguing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as a mitigating circumstance so that is something that the jury is considering and if they reject it, then it was considered,” Weinstein said. “From there, it becomes an Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment analysis.”
Scherer dismissed the jurors shortly before 11:45 a.m., on Wednesday, and she asked them to return on Sept. 27. Scherer also asked the attorneys to return to court at 1:30 p.m., on Monday.