Parkland shooter’s lawyers declare death penalty unconstitutional, judge denies motion

As case nears start of penalty phase, defense team asks for certain evidence to be excluded

Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz's defense team asks judge to exclude evidence related to two search warrants.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The judge in the Parkland shooting case denied several defense arguments where attorneys ask to declare the death penalty unconstitutional. Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer agreed with a state argument that the court did not have authority to overrule the Supreme Court on the issue.

On Feb. 14, 2018, Cruz opened fire on students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In October, Cruz pled guilty to killing 17 people in the shooting. By having Cruz plead guilty, the gunman’s defense team is hoping he may avoid the death penalty and instead be sentenced to 17 life sentences in prison.

Also, as the case nears the start of the penalty phase, Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s defense team asked the judge to exclude evidence related to two search warrants; one related to a Pompano Beach home he once resided in and another to the cell phone used on the day of the shooting.

“Mr. Cruz told us the phone was used to get the Uber that brought him to the school,” said Broward Sheriff’s Office detective John Curcio.

On the issue of Cruz’s cell phone, the defense argued that Cruz has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his telephone records. They also argue that the affidavit underpinning the warrant “does not indicate that the cellphone was used in any criminal activity.” They say there is no indication that a witness saw Cruz using a cell phone during or after the incident nor if Cruz made any calls or sent any messages using the cellphone during or after the incident.

They argue the cell phone warrant is “unconstitutionally overbroad” and “fails to establish any nexus” between “the criminal conduct investigated and the records to be searched.”

Two Broward Sheriff’s Offices detectives served as witnesses in the evidentiary hearing as the state worked to counter defense arguments. Namely that the affidavit in support of the warrant contained false statements.

The state, in its filed response, argued that the affidavit does contain “sufficient probable cause to support the execution of a warrant,” saying that “the phone was an instrumentality of” his felony offenses of murder.

The defense team reiterated in court Monday that it may be calling upwards of eight mental health witnesses. The state has previously told the judge that the defense has said these experts have not yet made a formal diagnosis and that they would like the defense to detail for the prosecution, which mitigating factors they will argue during the penalty phase.

The next hearing is scheduled in early December.

A 12-person jury will be selected starting at the beginning of January and Cruz will ultimately be sentenced either to life in prison or death.

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local