Parkland shooter’s defense seeks judge’s removal from case

Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks sharply calling lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill...
Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks sharply calling lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill "unprofessional" after McNeill announced the defense's intention to rest their case during the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)(AP)
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 9:40 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Lawyers for the convicted Parkland school shooter made a move Friday to have the judge remove herself from the case.

This comes after a contentious back and forth Wednesday between Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer and Nikolas Cruz’s defense team after they abruptly rested their case.

Scherer criticized lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill for her unprofessionalism in not letting anyone know ahead of time and wasting a day of court.

READ THE FULL MOTION BELOW:

The motion cited Florida's Judicial Code of Conduct that states a judge shall disqualify himself or herself if the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances where the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party’s lawyer.

Defense attorneys said Scherer's repeated improper and unjustified attacks on the defense counsel undermine the public’s confidence in the judicial system and have also caused Cruz to fear that he will not receive a fair trial.

Prosecutors said in a response that Scherer has been respectful to both sides.

Cruz's attorneys had told the judge and prosecutors they would be calling 80 witnesses but surprisingly rested at the start of Wednesday's court session after calling only about 25 of them.

There were 11 days of defense testimony overall, the last two spotlighting experts about how his birth mother’s heavy use of alcohol during pregnancy might have affected his brain’s development and led to his murdering 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four years ago.

The sudden announcement by McNeill led to a heated exchange between her and Scherer, who called the decision without warning to her or the prosecution "the most uncalled for, unprofessional way to try a case."

The 12-member jury and 10 alternates were not present but were lining up outside the courtroom to enter. The sudden announcement also meant prosecutors weren't ready to start their rebuttal case.

In Friday's filing, the defense team cited that Scherer has a "long-standing animosity" toward them and recalled "numerous instances of blatant bias against the defense."

"As a result of the Court's comments about lead counsel, erupting after she simply announced that the defense was resting its case, Mr. Cruz fears he cannot and will not receive a fair trial," the motion said.

Friday's court filing also contained an affidavit from Cruz in support of his lawyers’ motion to disqualify Scherer.

"The Court's statement causes me to reasonably believe that it has disliked my attorneys throughout the trial, and it is biased against me and my lawyers and I will not receive a fair trial," the affidavit said.

Cruz pleaded guilty last year to killing 14 students and three staff members on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Jurors are being asked to decide whether Cruz should spend the rest of his life in prison or be sentenced to death for his crimes.

The trial is scheduled to be back in session Monday without the jury to address a motion by the defense to limit the scope of the state's rebuttal case.

Scripps Only Content 2022