Judge in Parkland school shooter’s case: Closing arguments are on Tuesday

Judge reviews jury instructions, rules on pending motions

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the prosecution and the defense will each have up to two hours to deliver closing statements.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A contentious hearing on Monday settled the final details of the Parkland school shooter’s case to move forward with closing arguments on Tuesday morning.

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the prosecution and the defense will each have up to two hours to deliver closing arguments.

This means Scherer will soon place the case in the hands of the jury. In preparation for that, the defense and the prosecution discussed the jury instructions and the verdict forms.

The long list of details included a reference to three of the 17 counts of first-degree murder.

The defense wanted the three slain Broward County Public School employees — Chris Hixon, Aaron Feis, and Scott Biegel ― to be identified as “elected officials” since they opposed the prosecution’s legal acknowledgment of their role as public employees.

Broward County Public School employees Chris Hixon, Aaron Feis and Scott Biegel were working at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when Nikolas Cruz killed them on Feb. 14, 2018. (Courtesy photos)

Scherer denied their request.

The defense also wanted to include that Nikolas Cruz’s mental health history showed experts had reported he had displayed “autistic features.” The prosecution opposed it saying that none of the evidence presented reflected that he was autistic.

Scherer also denied this request saying it was “misleading” and that she found sufficient that his “deficits” and “abnormalities” were already listed in detail.

The defense and the prosecution agreed that the jury should have access to the ammunition and the rifle separately if needed during deliberation.

The jury instructions are so long, Scherer told the defense and the prosecution that she will have to start reading them to the jury on Tuesday after closing arguments.

MORE ACCUSATIONS

On Sunday, the defense and the prosecution filed two more motions that could have delayed the case of the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

First, the defense filed a 14-page motion accusing the prosecution of “misconduct” while “attempting to interfere” with their effort to defend Cruz.

In response, the prosecution filed a two-page motion asking the judge to prevent the defense from disparaging Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus over a “meritless” accusation of tampering.

Scherer denied the defense’s motion on the alleged misconduct and she also threatened to reprimand either side in front of the jury if they included anything that she has asked them to exclude.

17 VERDICTS ON THE PENALTY PHASE

On Thursday, Scherer said she wanted jurors to return to court for closing arguments in the penalty phase at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday. She also told them to prepare to start deliberations on Wednesday.

Scherer said she plans to dismiss 10 alternate jurors and give charging orders to the 12 jurors, so they can decide if Cruz should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.

Related video: Judge explains the new schedule to the jury

Attorney David Weinstein, a partner with Jones Walker Waechter in Miami, has experience as a prosecutor and has been following the case closely as a legal analyst.

“They are going to have to be focused on weighing what has been presented to them 17 times — they have to come up with 17 different verdicts here,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein also said their 17 verdicts are really a recommendation because the final sentencing is up to Scherer.

EXPLAINER: Penalty phase is ‘close to the end’

CASE STATUS

Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder last year. The murder counts allowed only two sentences: Life in prison without the possibility of parole or death.

The prosecution rested on Aug. 4 after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, and the public defenders who are trying to save his life rested on Sept. 14 after calling 26 witnesses in 11 days. The prosecution continued with rebuttal and rested on Sept. 27 after calling seven witnesses during four days in court.

Florida requires a jury’s unanimous vote to recommend death for each of the 17 counts of murder. But only one death verdict out of the 17 is enough for Scherer to consider the death penalty.

The defense aims to convince one of the 12 jurors to choose life for all 17 murder cases, so Cruz can avoid execution. If Scherer sentences Cruz to the death penalty, and he has exhausted all appeals, then Cruz will face execution.

Scherer asked the attorneys to return to court at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

FIRST-DEGREE MURDER CHARGES

The 17 counts are in the order of the murders as detectives concluded happened on Feb. 14, 2018.

Count 1: Luke Hoyer

Count 2: Martin Duque

Count 3: Gina Montalto

Count 4: Alex Schachter

Count 5: Alaina Petty

Count 6: Alyssa Alhadeff

Count 7: Nicholas Dworet

Count 8: Helena Ramsay

Count 9: Christopher Hixon

Count 10: Carmen Schentrup

Count 11: Aaron Feis

Count 12: Scott Beigel

Count 13: Meadow Pollack

Count 14: Cara Loughran

Count 15: Joaquin Oliver

Count 16: Jaime Guttenberg

Count 17: Peter Wang

Today’s reports

Watch the 4 p.m. report

A contentious hearing on Monday set the final details of the Parkland school shooter’s case to move forward with closing statements on Tuesday morning.

Watch the 5 p.m. report

Judge moves Parkland school shooter's case forward to closing arguments Tuesday after reviewing jury instructions and ruling on pending motions Monday.

Watch the 6 p.m. report

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the prosecution and the defense will each have up to two hours to deliver closing statements.

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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.