FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The defense team for confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz has filed a motion asking for a 45-day continuance “after the State presents its case-in-chief.”
The reason? They say last week they learned one of their key witnesses, Dr. Natalie Novick Brown, an expert in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), is now retiring from forensic trial work as recommended by her doctor due to a “serious medical condition,” and now they need time to bring their new expert up to speed, which could take several weeks.
They are asking the court to grant a 45-day continuance after the prosecution finishes presenting their case to allow “the defense adequate time to reconfigure its mitigation presentation” and for the state to depose the new defense expert.
They add that they believe their request is “reasonable as the court has advised jurors that they need to be available through at least December of 2022.”
The defense argues in its motion that it “is not attempting to unnecessarily delay proceedings,” but that Brown’s “condition was unforeseen” and they believe denial of their motion would violate their client’s due process rights.
“The defense is trying to prevent additional years of litigation because of reversal based on judicial error or ineffective assistance of counsel,” Cruz’s defense team writes. “The requested time is essential and necessary for the defense to perform its required function” and not being able to fully present the circumstances Dr. Brown’s “testimony supports, would clearly constitute ineffective assistance of counsel.”
They say Brown has spent more than 400 hours working on the case, which has included meeting with the defendant in person and on zoom, reviewing “over 20,000 pages of documents,” interviewing defense witnesses and conducting psychological testing.
The defense in the motion says during its investigation into Cruz’s “character, history, record and any circumstances of the offense or other factors which may provide a basis for a sentence less than death” it discovered “evidence of significant drug and alcohol use by Mr. Cruz’s biological mother throughout most of the period in which she was pregnant with him.”
That discovery, they write, required that they hire experts in the field as they investigated “the possibility that Mr. Cruz suffered from a disorder related to the prenatal alcohol exposure.”
Brown, the motion states, was retained in March 2021 because she is “one of the leading experts in the area of FASD in the United States” and therefore “instrumental” in what was to be their presentation to the jury of “mitigation relating to Mr. Cruz’s neurodevelopment disorder due to prenatal alcohol exposure.”
The state in its filed response to the defense motion for continuance asked the court to deny the motion for several reasons to include that the defense has an unrealistic trial schedule timeline for when the state may wrap up its case-in-chief.
They also write that with Brown being a “seasoned psychologist and expert witness who is familiar with the demands and stress of trial…it is unclear why the possibility of her condition affecting her ability to testify for the Defense was not previously discussed, and is now an issue” just before opening statements are to begin.
They also said the defense has several expert witnesses that can present mitigation testimony about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and/or neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure.
The defense in another filing challenged the state’s assertion that the other witnesses can testify to FASD.
“Each of the Defense’s experts have specific subspecialities,” they wrote in their reply to the state’s response motion, “that constant some overlap, but they are not interchangeable.”
They also say Brown’s cardiologist said that if she “undertakes the high-stress task of testifying in this case, she could go into atrial fibrillation, which could cause a blood clot or stroke,” and that an upcoming surgery is scheduled for around the time she would have been testifying for the defense.