Parkland school shooter’s defense says motion for mistrial relates to handling of ‘prejudicial’ evidence

Before Yon’s testimony, Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill said the trial should be rendered invalid through an error in the proceedings over their several requests for Scherer to rule on their request to omit the swastikas as a violation of “fair trial rights.”

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill moved for a mistrial on Thursday during the Parkland school shooter trial’s death penalty phase in Broward County court in Fort Lauderdale.

Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis said the swastikas that Cruz drew on an assignment that the defense wanted to introduce into evidence could influence the jury’s final decision on the death penalty, so she wanted to introduce the record with a redaction.

“It’s just one of those prejudicial hate symbols in the world,” Curtis said.

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the defense’s motion for the redaction. In response, McNeill said the trial should be rendered invalid through an error in the proceedings.

“This is not a strategic decision,” McNeill said.

McNeill said the defense had made several requests for Scherer to rule on their request to omit all of the swastikas in evidence. McNeill said not doing so was a violation of “fair trial rights.”

Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus disagreed. He argued the drawings in question were not related to the motion that McNeill was referring to. Marcus said the defense was well aware of the issue and the move for a mistrial was their strategy.

“The defense has already opened the door to mental health testimony,” Marcus said about the swastika being a symptom of Cruz’s anti-social personality disorder.

Scherer denied the defense’s motion to redact the Nazi symbols on specific drawings that were being admitted into evidence and also denied what she referred to as the defense’s “anticipatory mistrial” strategy.

Records show the prosecution filed a motion on June 30 asking Scherer to admit evidence related to Cruz’s ASPD diagnosis and the defense filed a pleading on July 1 in opposition to the motion referring to the evidence as “overly prejudicial and unnecessary.” Scherer has yet to rule on it.

“By allowing the swastikas to come in through carryon, the court has ruled on SF-202,” McNeill said referring to the June motion. “The court’s failure to rule on this motion prior to the swearing of the jury ... is in fact an abuse of discretion.”

Scherer and Marcus disagreed. Marcus said the defense had a problem with the antisemitic symbols but not with racist words that are “equally as terrible.”

Attorney David S. Weinstein, a partner at Jones Walker LLP, is not involved in the case, but he has been following it closely. He said the defense made the same argument about the swastika in the drawing Thursday that they made in opposition to the state’s June 30 motion on July 1.

“They were indeed testing the waters and opened the door for the Judge to rule on the issue before her today, which provides an insight on how she might rule on the pending motion,” Weinstein said.

The defense can decide not to introduce the evidence while questioning the witness. Weinstein said the prosecution can encourage Scherer to rule on the June 30 motion before she decides to rule on whether they can introduce evidence — “to prevent this from becoming a bigger issue.”

Related court document

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Here are some of the public court records on the motion mentioned:

July 15

(Record on SF-202. D-306)

File defense exhibit: To post-hearing brief in opposition to SF-202

File defendant’s: Post-hearing memorandum in opposition to SF-202

July 1

(Record on SF-202. Evidenced-299)

File defendants response: In opposition to the state’s motion for pretrial ruling on the admissibility of rebuttal evidence

June 30

(F-202)

File states motion: For pre-trial ruling on the admissibility of rebuttal evidence (Swastikas and hate speech on social media)

Watch the 4 p.m. report

The Parkland school shooter's eighth-grade teacher and principal at Westglades Middle School describe a disruptive student who didn't belong there.

Watch the 5 p.m. report

The Parkland school shooter's eighth-grade teacher and principal at Westglades Middle School describe a disruptive student who didn't belong there.

Watch the 6 p.m. report

The Parkland school shooter's eighth-grade teacher and principal at Westglades Middle School describe a disruptive student who didn't belong there.

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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.