Another week on hold in the trial of Parkland school shooter

Lead defense attorney remains absent from courtroom

Judge Elizabeth Scherer in the courtroom in the penalty phase trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Last Monday when the lead defense attorney was absent from court for the jury selection in the penalty phase of the Parkland school shooting capital, the judge announced that proceedings would be postponed by one week.

Now it looks as if there will be another week of delay.

Melisa McNeill has been absent since last week. Last Monday, Judge Elizabeth Scherer could be heard saying in open court: “Is she going to test today?” before they went into a private session. However, it was never revealed the cause of McNeill’s absence; the court did not confirm that McNeill was out because of COVID-19.

Defense attorney Tamara Curtis told Scherer when she addressed the court Monday morning: “We are very hopeful that we will be able to resume on Monday.”

Scherer responded: “Monday? Not tomorrow for sure? OK. OK.”

[RELATED: Who are they? In the courtroom of the Parkland school shooter trial]

On Monday, however, the last juror of the 11 that both the defense and prosecution had said was prematurely dismissed during Week One of jury selection appeared in court. On Day 2 of jury selection, 11 prospective jurors were excused after they said they could not “follow the law.” Scherer erroneously dismissed them before attorneys had a chance to question them.

No. 11 was dismissed from the case on Monday after he told the judge that as a self-employed software engineer serving on a trial expected to last four to five months would be a financial hardship because he would lose clients.

That means of the 11, all but one was excused for hardships. The one juror that was not excused will be called back for Round Two.

Also on Monday, Scherer extended the amount of time the trial could last. It is the first time, when addressing the prospective juror, that she indicated testimony, which is expected to begin in June could stretch possibly through October.

Scherer had previously told panels of prospective jurors during Phase One that the trial would most likely run through September.

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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 10.com.