Parkland school shooter’s penalty phase: Defense team presents 26 witnesses in 11 days

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill speaks during a hearing in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. The defense filed a motion asking Judge Elizabeth Scherer to recuse herself based on comments she made in court when lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill announced the defense's intention to rest their case last week. The motion was denied. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool) (Amy Beth Bennett, © South Florida Sun Sentinel 2022)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The defense team that is working to save the Parkland school shooter’s life rested their case on Sept. 14, after calling 26 witnesses during 11 days of testimony.

The team started to call witnesses after Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill delivered her opening statement on Aug. 22. McNeill said on Aug. 23 that the defense team had over 80 witnesses to call during the death penalty phase in the case of the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland. The defense also submitted a list of 2,000 potential witnesses.

The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty rested their case on Aug. 4, after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, including the 17 injured on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer is presiding over the case.

Aug. 22

Aug. 23

  • Anne Marie Fischer: The former director of the Young Minds Learning Center where Nikolas Cruz was a student.
  • Patricia “Trish” Devaney-Westerlind: A former Parkland resident who considered Lynda Cruz a friend. Read jail call records >
  • John Newnham: A former Broward County Public Schools counselor who saw Cruz at Coral Springs Elementary School.

Aug. 24

  • Frederick M. Kravitz: A clinical psychologist who treated Nikolas Cruz as a child.
  • Steven Schusler: He said he was a tenant who lived in front of Cruz’s home in Parkland for about six years.
  • Caridad Harvey: The licensed mental health counselor was formerly known as Caridad Lancho.

Aug. 25

Aug. 29

  • Lynne Rodriguez: Veteran special education teacher who was Cruz’s third-grade teacher.
  • Finai Browd: Lynda Cruz’s friend was deposed on July 14. The defense played a video.
  • Shameka Stanford: Speech and language pathologist in the field of criminology

Aug. 30

Aug. 31

Sept. 1

  • Carrie Yon: A Westglades Middle School teacher who met Cruz in 8th grade during her language arts class.
  • John Vesey: The former principal of Westglades Middle School.

Sept. 2

  • Tiffany Forres: She met Cruz while working as a case manager for Henderson Behavioral Health.
  • Jeffrey Smith: A BSO detective who responded to Cruz’s home.
  • Liliana Pardo-Posse: A retired Broward County schools social worker who met Lynda Cruz while assessing Nikolas Cruz.

Sept. 12

  • Paul Connor: A licensed clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist.

Sept. 13

  • Connor: The licensed clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist to finish his testimony.
  • Dr. Kenneth Lyons Jones: A pediatrician and academic researcher who is known as the “Father of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome” for his research on the subject.

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About the Author:

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.