Victim impact statements again focus of latest Parkland shooter hearing

The defense attorneys who are representing the man who confessed to the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School wanted to prevent the 12-member jury from listening to the victims’ families.

PARKLAND, Fla. – As the Parkland shooting case nears the start of its penalty phase, Nikolas Cruz’s defense team filed several motions seeking to put limits on victim impact statements.

In one motion, the defense wanted the statements read by a neutral party to mitigate against emotion.

“An overly emotional display during presentation of victim impact statements will deprive him of a fair trial,” said public defender Tamara Curtis.

The state argued before the judge that the victims have a right to be heard.

“What the defendant is seeking is that the victims in this case be neutralized,” said prosecutor Carolyn McCann.

The judge ultimately denied the defense motion.

She also denied the defense motion which asked the court to, “instruct the families of the victims and others present in the gallery to limit their emotions during victim impact statements or to excuse themselves from the courtroom if necessary.”

The judge said like in any other case, if emotions are running high, she will address it in real time.

“I will remind all people in the courtroom to please maintain proper decorum,” said Judge Elizabeth Scherer.

When it came to another defense request to video record victim impact statements, the judge said she will take what both sides had to say under advisement.

“A written transcript does not accurately reflect the highly emotional and often prejudicial manner in which this type of evidence is delivered to the jury,” argued Curtis.

The defense stated that given there is a “high likelihood of intense emotion during the presentation of victim impact statements, a video recording of the testimony is the best evidence that can be produced in order to have meaningful appellate review.”

The state argued the opposite.

“The State still maintains, your Honor, that it will have a traumatic effect on these victims,” said McCann. “These are not professional witnesses. These are mothers, these are fathers, these are spouses, these are children.”

Prosecutors added that, “videotaping the testimony of victim impact witnesses, who have already suffered,” may have a “chilling or traumatic effect on these witnesses.”

They also say that given no other witnesses will be videotaped, granting the defense request, “potentially emphasizes the victim impact testimony to the jury, which is counterproductive to what the defense intends, given their numerous pleadings seeking to limit victim impact testimony.”

The judge said she would take the arguments presented into advisement and deferred ruling on the motion for now.

In the meantime, the judge did issue an order denying a defense motion to suppress evidence collected related to two search warrants.

The next pre-trial status hearing is set for Dec. 29.

About the Author:

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."