The defense team abruptly rested its case in the Parkland school shooter sentencing trial Wednesday, triggering an outburst from Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer.
“We’re not playing chess,” she said. “I just want to say this is the most uncalled for, unprofessional way to try the case.”
As soon as the jury was about to enter the courtroom Wednesday morning, a member of the defense team, Melisa McNeill, stood up and said, “the defense rests.”
The judge stopped the 12 jurors and 10 alternates from entering and addressed the defense team.
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“You all knew about this, and even if you didn’t make your decision until this morning, to have 22 [jurors] plus all of this staff and every attorney march into court and be waiting as if it’s some kind of game,” said an apparently exasperated Scherer.
“Now I have to send them home, the state’s not ready, they’re not going to have a witness ready [for rebuttal], we have another day wasted,” she added. “Honestly, I have never experienced a level of unprofessionalism in my career. It’s unbelievable."
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McNeill started to respond to Scherer but was cut off.
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"I have been practicing in this county for 22 years…" McNeill started to say.
"You know what, I don't want to hear it," Scherer said.
"Well judge you're insulting me on the record in front of my client and I believe that I should be able to defend myself," McNeill responded.
"You can do that later, you can make your record later but you've been insulting me the entire trial, blatantly, taking your headphones off, arguing with me, storming out, coming late intentionally if you don't like my rulings, so quite frankly this has been long overdue," Scherer said.
The judge proceeded to ask Cruz if he was satisfied with his defense after a list of names of potential witnesses who would not be called to testify was read into the court record. Among the names was his brother Zachary Cruz.
"Are there any of those people that you feel need to be called [to testify] before you rest?" Scherer asked Cruz.
"I don't know who those people are," Cruz answered. After some clarification, Cruz said, "No, I think we're good."
When jurors were brought into the courtroom about 11:25 a.m., the defense rested its case officially and the judge instructed the jurors on the schedule going forward.
As it stands, the state’s rebuttal is tentatively scheduled to begin Sept. 27 and end Oct. 7. A court hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday so the defense team can ask the judge to shorten the amount of time the state spends on its rebuttal.
Closing arguments can begin Oct. 10. Jurors were told they will be sequestered during their deliberations.
Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty, last October, to 17 murders and 17 attempted murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
The defense team called 25 witnesses over 11 days trying to show Cruz is deserving of a life prison term because of a lifetime of physical, mental, and emotional instability.
The state is seeking the death penalty.