The judge proceeding over the upcoming penalty phase for confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz recently signed an order denying a defense motion for alternating jury questioning.
Earlier last month, during a Dec. 8 hearing, the defense for Cruz asked 17th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer if they can take turns with the prosecution when asking potential jurors about their views on the death penalty. They argued that alternating questioning would be “the more fair method.”
Prosecutors countered that the defense is asking the Court to “toss aside long-standing tradition,” which allows the state to go first, similar to how the state goes first during opening statements and closing arguments. They also said switching back and forth could be confusing to jurors tasked with making a very difficult decision.
In her Dec. 27 order denying the defense request, Scherer wrote that the defendant “is unable to demonstrate that there is any advantage gained by the State in examining jurors first,” adding, “This Court does not believe any such advantage exists” and “alternating who goes first will only cause confusion in the proceedings.”
This was just one of several motions presented by Cruz’s legal team that were denied by the judge.
On the outstanding question about whether the judge’s jury selection notes should be “preserved,” the judge stated in a separate order signed Monday that “this Court finds that its personal notes with regard to jury selection would be confidential and exempt under the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, and as such, shall not be preserved or made a part of the record in this matter.”
In yet – another separate order signed by the judge, Scherer also denied a defense motion to video record victim impact statements.
Her order follows arguments made on this motion by both sides during a Dec. 13 pretrial hearing.
The defense had stated that given there is a “high likelihood of intense emotion during the presentation of victim impact statements, a video recording of the testimony is the best evidence that can be produced in order to have meaningful appellate review.”
The state has argued that video recording victim impact testimony “will have a traumatic effect on these victims.”
In her order denying the defense request, the judge wrote that “a proper record may be made without the need for a party video recording this testimony.”
Scherer also wrote that the start date of the sentencing trial has been moved forward to February 2022.
“The Court previously set this matter down for a trial date in early January 2022. Both parties, however, have represented to this Court that they each need additional time to prepare their experts for trial and will not be ready to commence trial on the scheduled January date,” wrote Scherer in the order.
Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, leaving a jury to decide whether he will be executed for the deadliest high school shooting in US history.
The guilty pleas set the stage for a penalty trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether the 23-year-old should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.