Attorney reacts to accusation during Parkland school shooter’s trial

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Attorney Christopher Whitelock reacted on Tuesday to an accusation the Parkland school shooter’s defense recently raised in Broward County court.

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill cited a conference call between John Vesey, the former principal of Westglades Middle School, Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus, and Whitelock.

McNeill said Vesey told the defense on Thursday that he felt “like they were trying to prohibit him from testifying” and Vesey said during his testimony that the call was “incredibly uncomfortable.”

“Mr. Marcus and/or myself didn’t say anything inappropriate during the communications,” Whitelock said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Whitelock, who represents several Broward County Public Schools employees, was not in court when this unfolded. Marcus described the purpose of the call.

“We spoke about what his testimony would be. Mr. Whitelock heard the conversation. I have every confidence that Mr. Whitelock would think that it was an appropriate conversation. It was merely, ‘What are you going to testify to?’ and some questions about his role as principal. This is absolutely untrue,” Marcus said in court.

In his statement, Whitelock agreed with Marcus: “Simply asking stuff like what, if anything, Mr. Vesey knew about the case is very standard trial work and Mr. Marcus was simply doing his job.”

When talking about the phone call, McNeill said Whitelock was Vesey’s “personal friend” and during his testimony, Vesey said he had known Whitelock for years.

“And respectfully, Mr. Marcus is not a friend of mine,” Whitelock said in his statement.

In court, on Thursday, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer allowed Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis and Assistant State Attorney Nicole Chiappone to question Vesey about the call.

Chiappone: “You are aware that it is permissible for lawyers to speak with witnesses right?”

Vesey said he did.

Chiappone: “You testified that you were concerned on this morning, at your testimony, or whoever was on the phone, that your testimony would negatively affect individuals within the Broward County school district? But that person was just Mr. Whitelock, correct?” and later “Mr. Whitelock was worried, he was the one concerned about your testimony?”

Vesey: “He voiced that, yes. He did. He was the one who voiced that.”

Chiappone: “OK, not Mr. Marcus?”

Vesey: “No.”

While on the witness stand on Thursday, Vesey told Curtis that he was not deposed before his testimony in court.

Attorney David S. Weinstein, a partner at Jones Walker LLP, is not involved in the case, but he has been following it closely, said that as Chiappone said in court, it is proper for a lawyer to speak with a witness before testimony.

“Given the time constraints of the penalty phase trial, the state chose not to depose this witness and instead to speak with the witness, and instead to speak with the witness through his lawyer prior to his testimony,” Weinstein said.

McNeill submitted an affidavit signed by Vesey describing his perception of the Thursday morning call with Marcus and Whitelock.

“My office has cooperated with both the prosecutor as well as the defense on this case without a single incident or complaint,” Whitelock said in his statement.

McNeill told Scherer in court the call was grounds for the defense to file a motion to “disqualify or to prohibit” the state from seeking the death penalty. But as of Tuesday afternoon, the motion had not been filed and a Tuesday afternoon hearing on “all pending motions” was canceled.

Read Whitelock’s complete statement

The phone communications between Mr. Vesey and Mr. Marcus were completely appropriate. Mr. Marcus and/or myself didn’t say anything inappropriate during the communications. Simply asking stuff like what, if anything, Mr. Vesey knew about the case is very standard trial work and Mr. Marcus was simply doing his job. And respectfully, Mr. Marcus is not a friend of mine. Also, my office has cooperated with both the prosecutor as well as the defense on this case without a single incident or complaint.

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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."

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.