Parkland shooter trial: Judge rules 2 high profile defense witnesses must answer prosecutors’ questions

Despite their arguing to the contrary, the Broward judge overseeing the Parkland shooter's trial says two witnesses must comply with state's questioning.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Two high-profile defense witnesses had told the court that they didn’t believe some of the questions asked to them by prosecutors were appropriate. But the judge overseeing the Parkland shooter’s trial disagreed.

On Thursday, the state and defense debated over whether the shooter’s brother, Zachary Cruz, and the brother’s roommate, Richard Moore, should be forced to answer certain questions asked by the state in a deposition.

In Zachary Cruz and Moore’s motion, “the majority of the information the State seeks, touches intimately on the home, marital, and family life of the Deponents. The information further is tied to perceived political activities, political views, and membership or participation in certain protest movements and activist groups.”

Attorney Amina Matheny-Willard spoke on their behalf and brought up Zachary Cruz’s 2018 arrest for trespassing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas a month after the shooting before telling Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer: “We feel like this is continued harassment by Broward County and we feel like it is tantamount to witness tampering.”

Scherer: “You are saying that there is continued harassment that would warrant the Florida Department of Law Enforcement getting involved?

Matheny-Willard: “Absolutely”

Scherer: “That is a big accusation, which if you feel that is the case then you, ma’am, by all means, should be contacting the police yourself.”

[RELATED: Details emerge about criminal histories of Cruz’s biological family]

Scherer ruled that Zachary Cruz and Moore will answer all questions in the deposition despite Matheny-Willard’s argument against some of the queries.

In regards to Zachary Cruz, Matheny-Williard said that the state already knows what her client’s testimony will contain.

“. . . that Broward County ignored all of the signs up to the shooting with regard to Nikolas Cruz,” Matheny-Willard said.

“Well, that is interesting because I have already ruled that it is not admissible,” Scherer countered.

After a morning of back and forth exchanges, Scherer said she had reviewed all of the questions asked by the state in the depositions and made her ruling.

“They were all relevant, appropriate and under Florida law, both of the deponents are required to answer.” She warned Matheny-Willard that “instructing a deponent not to answer a question is inappropriate and it is not legal under the Florida rules of procedure unless there is a privilege and there was no privilege that was claimed. That is my ruling.”

Matheny-Willard said that “they will comply.”

They are both scheduled to answer prosecutors’ remaining depositions on Sept. 6.

Questions Over Family Friend Deposition

Also on Thursday, all parties combed through a deposition from Finai Browd, a person whom capital defense attorney Casey Secor had a psychologist interview telling the court in a pre-trial hearing in July: “Because Nick’s parents are deceased, one of the people that this psychologist talked to was a family friend (Browd) who’s known Nick since he was very little.” Secor also explained in that July hearing that the defense had the interview conducted in an attempt to find out what Cruz was like at different points of his life.

As the court and the attorneys litigated as to which portion of Browd’s deposition should or should not be redacted, a window into the defense’s upcoming case presentation and how the state may be planning to refute it during rebuttal, Secor said, “It is not our position that Nikolas has autism spectrum disorder, there is, however, a great deal of overall between autism spectrum disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, they’re both neurodevelopment disorders,” he said.

To which Jeff Marcus, the assistant state attorney said, “Ms. Browd is portrayed by the defense in direct examination as an expert on Nikolas Cruz at ages up to approximately 12 years of age. She testifies that Lynda Cruz (Nikolas Cruz’s adoptive mother) never went the extra mile to take him to therapy or, you know, get a diagnosis. We are able to rebut that defense with his antisocial behaviors which includes all the awful things that he did including the swastikas, on the writings he did with swastikas, the gun, this is part of his antisocial personality.”

[RELATED: Defense wants to exclude swastikas, racial slurs, animal abuse]

Marcus also said that “the point of Ms. Browd’s testimony and the state’s cross-examination is that this rebuts her testimony that Lynda Cruz was responsible. The person who is responsible is the person who has an antisocial personality, has a borderline personality, and that is the defendant himself. Everything the mother, Mrs. Cruz, tried to do for him was ineffective because of his personality disorder, not this neurodevelopment disorder that the defense contends.”

The judge deferred her ruling on some sections but chose to rule from the bench on the Browd deposition.

“The fact that the witness has perceived her own child exhibiting certain behaviors and because of those perceptions and her ability to observe or own child and then recognize similar behavior in another child I think that that is relevant and admissible. However, her statements about the autism spectrum and learning disabilities, I think that those are improper opinions of a lay witness. I also think that that is not relevant,” Scherer said.

On Wednesday, Nikolas Cruz’s defense attorneys said they would no longer seek to show jurors images of his brain scan that were done at the Broward County Main Jail.

Cruz’s defense team initially wanted to introduce it as evidence but backed out after the prosecutors’ Emory University expert, Dr. Charles Epstein, questioned the reliability of the analysis of the brain scan referring to it as “garbage.”

Court will reconvene on Monday, Aug. 22.

Cruz has pleaded guilty to killing 17 people in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

His trial will determine whether he is sentenced 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