Nikolas Cruz appears in Broward County court twice on same day

Parkland shooter's defense team looks to keep state from pursuing death penalty

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz appeared in a Broward County courtroom for the second time Friday.

Cruz's attorneys filed a series of motions to prevent prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.

The second of the two court hearings began just after 1 p.m. for the 21-year-old, who faces the death penalty if convicted of the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Before the proceedings started, Cruz's attorneys attempted to waive his appearance as they had done successfully in Friday morning's hearing tied to Cruz's alleged assault of a prison deputy last November.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the request and attempted to eliminate similar requests in the future.

"From this point forward I am going to find that the defendant must be present for all substantive hearings, including the one this morning," Scherer said. "That is my final ruling.

"Do what you need to do if you disagree," Scherer said to the prosecuting and defense attorneys before proceeding with the hearing that addressed a series of pretrial motions, including whether the state could pursue the death penalty.

Cruz's lawyers have said he will plead guilty to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting that led to the death of 14 students and three faculty members. In exchange, Cruz would face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Broward County prosecutors have rejected that offer.

Scherer deferred judgment on one of those motions, while denying another that if allowed would've prohibited the state from pursuing the death penalty. The judge also denied Cruz defense attorneys access to a list of victims who testified before a March 2018 grand jury.

Earlier Friday, Cruz entered the courtroom with his attorneys. The appearance was for a scheduled hearing to dismiss charges stemming from a November altercation when Cruz allegedly attacked a jail guard and attempted to take a sergeant's stun gun.

In addition to the Parkland school shooting, Cruz is facing charges of attempted aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer and attempted use of an electric or chemical weapon against a law enforcement officer in connection with the incident.

Cruz's defense attorneys had filed a motion to postpone the hearing, which Scherer denied. Instead, Cruz's attorneys requested his appearance be waived.

Scherer explained to the defense council, as well as to Cruz, that Cruz had a right to be there to consult with his legal representation should any details of the jailhouse altercation need to be raised by Cruz.

After a brief sidebar, the defense council said Cruz waived his right to appear.

Scherer then asked Cruz to testify under oath that he understands what waiving his appearance means and asked him a series of questions.

The line of questioning from the judge included asking Cruz's age, to which he initially answered 19. Cruz is 21. Scherer also asked how far Cruz made it to in high school.

Scherer eventually granted Cruz's request for voluntarily waiving his right to appear, and Cruz exited the courtroom. Scherer stated the decision was for the first hearing only.

State prosecutors and defense attorneys then went through the scheduled hearing proceedings and Scherer deferred judgment on dismissing the case for a few days.

Pretrial motions will continue on Nov. 18 at 1:30 p.m.

Trial is currently set to begin with jury selection on Jan. 27.