Jury can see Parkland shooter’s Instagram, judge says

Attorneys for Nikolas Cruz, who is accused of killing 17 at his former school in Parkland, said they want prosecutors to not invade his privacy during the trial.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Jurors in the upcoming death penalty trial for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz will be allowed to see his Instagram posts, a judge ruled Monday.

Attorneys for Cruz, who pleaded guilty to killing 17 at his former school in Parkland, argued that someone who makes an Instagram account public has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

“He is not required to make his Instagram private to have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” assistant public defender Nawal Bashimam told Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Monday during a pre-trial evidentiary hearing.

Prosecutor Nicole Chiappone countered that Cruz’s Instagram accounts were public when he shot the victims on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

In one of Cruz’s posts on Instagram before the school shooting, there was a picture of Cruz holding a semiautomatic firearm and pictures of assault rifles and ammunition, court records show. There were also conversations concerning the purchase of assault rifles.

Assistant state attorney Steven Klinger said the defense’s request to suppress the evidence collected from Cruz’s Instagram accounts made the prosecution’s work impossible.

“How in the world is a good State Attorney going to do an effective cross-examination of a defense expert witness having looked at every bit of the information that that witness is relying on to make his or her opinion?”

Assistant public defender Melisa McNeill said getting a protective order was sufficient.

“With the protective order, the data can go to the prosecutor and we would have to send it to their expert, because they are not permitted to copy it — that’s all that has to be done,” McNeill said.

Assistant public defender Tamara Curtis said the defense also has experts including a team of fetal alcohol, spectrum disorder experts and neurophysiologists. Scherer ruled against the motion.

“I agree with the state that the defense did not establish reasonable expectation of privacy,” Scherer said.

Last year, the public defenders said they wanted prosecutors and their witnesses prohibited from referring to Cruz as “the killer,” “an animal,” or to use any derogatory terms that would dehumanize him or be prejudicial. The defense also wanted to prevent the victims and their families from testifying in court and argued that could result in “overly emotional displays.”

Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October. Scherer scheduled the trial to begin on Feb. 21. After jury selection, the 12 jurors will have to decide whether Cruz should be sentenced to life without parole or death.

J. David Bogenschutz, a Fort Lauderdale-based criminal defense attorney, has been following the case closely even though he is not involved.

“I think there are methods of dealing with it that don’t necessarily step on anyone’s ethical or legal toes,” Bogenschutz said, adding mental health experts’ perspective is crucial for the defense. “It is so important because that is one of the major issues, if not the major issue, the defense is raising to keep the state from killing him.”

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."

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.