Admitted Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz‘s defense attorneys rested their case on Wednesday — halfway through an 80-person witness list in the penalty phase of a trial surrounding mass murder at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
The apparently sudden turn of events aggravated Judge Elizabeth Scherer.
“We’re not playing chess,” the judge said.
She asked prosecutors if they were ready to put on a rebuttal case.
“We were waiting for 40 more witnesses,” prosecutor Michael Satz said, indicating that the state was not ready.
“I just want to say, this is the most uncalled for, unprofessional way to try the case,” Scherer said of the defense. “You all knew about this, and even if you didn’t make your decision until this morning, to have 22 people plus all of this staff and every attorney march into court, be waiting as if it’s some kind of game — now I have to send them home. The state’s not ready. They’re not going to have a witness ready. We have another day wasted. Honestly, I have never experienced a level of unprofessionalism in my career. It’s unbelievable.”
BREAKING: The defense rests in #ParklandShooter penalty phase trial.
They only called half of the 80 witnesses they had on their list and did not give anyone a heads up they were not calling anymore witnesses today. JUDGE IS MAD! pic.twitter.com/2rBFEyRnmq
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) September 14, 2022
Cruz attorney Melisa Alice McNeill of the Broward Public Defender’s Office stood up on behalf of the defense.
“I have been practicing in this county for 22 years,” she said, before Scherer cut her off.
“You know what, I don’t want to hear it,” the judge said.
“Well, judge, you’re insulting me on the record in front of my client, and I believe I should be able to defend myself,” McNeill said.
“You can do that later,” Scherer said. “You can make your record later, but you’ve been insulting me the entire trial.”
It was a rocky end to the defense’s case.
Cruz, a former student, attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018. Armed with a semiautomatic rifle, he stalked through the hallways, killing 17 people and injuring others. He pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts each of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. The state refused to budge on the death penalty, paving the way for the currently ongoing penalty phase.
“Cold. Calculated. Manipulative. Deadly,” prosecutor Michael Satz told jurors in his opening statement. He said that Cruz had been planning the mass shooting since before his mother died and he moved in with a friend’s family. Evidence showed Cruz sometimes returned to his injured and dying victims to shoot them again.
“I miss him!” Corey Hixon, the son of slain school athletic director Christopher Hixon, told the court in a victim impact statement.
Oh my! Cory Hixon, son of #ParklandSchool victim Christopher HIxon gives victim impact statement. He’s darling! #heartbreaking pic.twitter.com/GR4eD8ijqk
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) August 4, 2022
The defense’s case is that Cruz never got a fair shake at life. His biological mother Brenda Woodard used drugs and alcohol while pregnant with him, and his adoptive mother Lynda Cruz was inconsistent in getting him help to thrive.
“When I met Nikolas Cruz on Feb. 15, 2018, I knew that he was a damaged person,” McNeill said. “But I also know that wounded and damaged people wound and damage other people because they are in pain.”
The defense first brought up a friend of Woodard’s, who testified that Brenda abused substances while pregnant with Nikolas Cruz. The defendant’s half-sister Danielle Woodard put it in visceral terms, saying her brother was in their mother’s “polluted womb.”
Danielle Woodard says she was living with maternal grandma and then went back to live with Brenda the summer before 6th grade. She says Nikolas Cruz was in her mother’s “polluted womb”. #ParklandShooter @LawCrimeNetwork pic.twitter.com/gJ2dmIYvop
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) August 22, 2022
Witnesses for the defense laid out defendant Cruz’s troubled life in school and home.
Middle school teacher on the stand for the defense in #ParklandShooter penalty phase. Jury sees schoolwork from 8th grade. Testimony: As the school year went on, Cruz’s papers became more inappropriate. pic.twitter.com/xn6Ksnwhw2
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) September 1, 2022
WATCH: A neighbor of #NikolasCruz is on the stand. He demonstrates the time he saw Cruz with a airsoft gun shooting at a rock “spazmatic”. #ParklandSchoolShooter pic.twitter.com/BiwzVeEz1h
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) August 24, 2022
Scherer on Wednesday asked Cruz is if he accepted his defense ending their case and if he understood his brother Zachary Cruz would not testify on his behalf. He gave his team to go ahead to wrap things up. Scherer asked if he felt his defense needed to call any witnesses.
“No, ma’am, ” he said.
The state is expected to start its rebuttal case on Sept. 27. Closing arguments are expected the week of Oct. 10.
[Screenshot via Law&Crime Network]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]