FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami / AP) – A judge has denied a petition from attorneys for confessed parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, who attempted to see testimony and evidence presented to the grand jury who indicted him in March 2018.
Under Florida law, these proceedings are usually secret, and District Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she saw no reason to bring this up.
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Cruz’s attorneys had argued that it was unfair that the prosecutors who brought the case to the grand jury have access to transcripts and evidence and can use them to intercept witnesses whose testimony is changing, but they cannot.
Prosecutors argued that Cruz’s lawyers could request certain transcripts if they can prove that certain witnesses changed their testimony, but giving them all of the transcripts now would be a “fishing expedition”.
Prosecutor Jeff Marcus also argued that Cruz’s attorneys should not be allowed to use negligence by his therapists, school officials, or campus security guards as mitigating factors during the death penalty of his trial if he is convicted.
For example, Marcus told Scherer that Cruz’s lawyers should not be allowed to argue that his responsibility for the deaths is diminished by the school violating its security procedures by unlocking its gates before release and leaving them unguarded so he can sneak in may argue that his actions are mitigated by the fact that some students who were shot did not follow mass shooting protocols taught to them, Marcus said.
“This is arguably a third party fault directly related to the defendant, but it does not reduce his moral guilt,” said Marcus.
Cruz attorney Melisa McNeill said her side would never use extenuating circumstances “as an excuse, defense or justification for the crimes committed”. But, she said, if he is convicted and asked to choose between the death penalty and life imprisonment, the jury must be aware of all of the circumstances surrounding Cruz, his life, and the shootings.
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“We have this concept of mitigation because it avoids the risk of the death penalty being imposed on those who qualify for a less severe or severe sentence,” said McNeill.
Scherer said she would soon rule. She denied two more arguments from Cruz’s lawyers on Wednesday:
– That separate juries deal with the guilt phase and, if applicable, the conviction phase. Scherer said that both phases are usually dealt with by a jury and they see no reason to deviate in this case.
– That Cruz’s lawyers are allowed to eliminate more than 10 potential jurors during the jury selection process for no reason. She said they’ll likely be allowed to eliminate more once the jury selection is underway, but it’s premature to make that decision now.
Cruz, 22, pleaded not guilty to the February 14, 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead and 17 injured. His lawyers said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. The public prosecutor’s office has rejected this offer and is demanding the death penalty.
No court date has been set as the pandemic slowed preparations. Scherer has started holding regular hearings to clarify issues that need to be decided before jury selection begins.
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