Nikolas Cruz wants to be excluded from hearings

Judge asks to question Parkland school shooter, but defense attorneys object

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Attorneys for the suspect in last year's Parkland school shooting want to waive his attendance at pretrial hearings.

Nikolas Cruz signed a waiver of appearance Thursday and sought to have his attorneys speak on his behalf.

Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she wanted to question Cruz at a hearing Friday. She said if he "knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently" waives his appearance, she will allow it.

"I understand that you disagree with my decision, but it's my decision," Scherer told defense attorneys Friday. "So the next step is to either have him stand up, I will put him under oath, ask him five or 10 questions, make my findings and then his appearance will be waived, but until that time, he's going to be required to be present."

While conferring with his attorneys, Cruz nodded his head in affirmation several times and stood up at one point, appearing ready to speak, but assistant public defender Melisa McNeil returned to the defense table and began feverishly writing something on a note pad as Cruz sat back down.

Defense attorneys speak to Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz during a hearing, April 5, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Another defense attorney then waived the judge's questioning and Cruz remained for the hearing.

Defense attorneys also requested that jail visitation records not be disclosed and used in discovery, arguing they are not public record.

Prosecutors argued otherwise.

"They're trying to say they're not a public record," chief assistant state attorney Jeff Marcus told Scherer. "Judge, nothing could be further from the truth."

An attorney for the Broward Sheriff's Office argued that jail logs are public record, specifically for the safety of staff and inmates.

Cruz's attorneys argue that his presence draws television coverage that emotionally damages survivors of the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead. They said prosecutors should accept their proposed deal that would see Cruz plead guilty for a life sentence without parole so the case can be concluded.

Prosecutors have declined the deal and are seeking a death sentence.

The trial for Cruz, 20, is scheduled for early next year.