FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – An argument over whether or not the relatives of the victims should address the Parkland school shooter’s defense attorneys during the sentencing hearing prompted Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to ask Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes to sit down Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale.
A few of the parents of the victims of the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland used their time in court to criticize Melisa McNeill, the chief assistant public defender, and her team.
“I did my job,” McNeill told Scherer. “And every member of this team did our job, and we should not personally be attacked for that, nor should our children.”
Weekes tried to persuade Scherer to prevent what he said was the incitement of violence. Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus stood up and objected to Weekes’ statement, saying the only violence in reference was that of the defendant.
“No one jumped when people were referring to Karma acting in the universe,” Weekes said referring to a grieving mother’s comment. “No one was jumping up when they were referring to the defense’s children. No one jumped up to try to tap down that rhetoric ... I am witnessing a building of momentum and I am encouraging the court to direct the state to tap down on that momentum.”
Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann said the victims had the legal right to “express themselves and be heard,” and after Weekes spoke, she accused him of lying.
“The only thing the state has said to any of these witnesses when they get up is, ‘Would they like to say something on behalf of the victim they are representing?’ There has been no encouraging or inciting,” McCann said.
Related story: Grieving families let Parkland school shooter know they see he is ‘evil’ and criticize his defense
One of the grieving fathers raised a comparison about the defense’s “tolerance for murder” and mentioned the defense’s children. Then an upset defense attorney told Scherer, “I can assure you that if somebody was talking about your children you would definitely notice it” after Scherer claimed to not have heard the reference about the defense’s children.
Scherer immediately said, “You need to sit down right now! In fact, you are excused.”
The exchange soon resulted in Scherer ordering the assistant public defender to sit in the back of the courtroom with Weekes. But Weekes returned to the podium.
“Judge, the same venom that the court is expressing is the same venom that defense counsel had to sit through,” Weekes said while appearing to defend his assistant public defender’s behavior.
Scherer told Weekes that McNeill had chosen to bring up her children during her defense and then she asked Weekes to sit down. Weekes asked Scherer to not dismiss him. Scherer repeatedly asked him to sit down. Weekes then asked for a recess. She denied it, so he eventually walked away.
“You are inappropriate and out of line. Go sit down,” Scherer told Weekes, later adding, “We are moving on with the sentencing.”
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During her heated exchange with the defense, Scherer also mentioned Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis’ behavior in court earlier in July. Curtis wasn’t in the courtroom Tuesday.
“When these people are upset about specific things that have gone on from that table like shooting the middle finger up at this court and laughing and joking ... When these people have sat in this courtroom and watched this behavior from that table and they want to say that they are not happy about it, what is the problem?”
Watch video of when Scherer asks Weekes to ‘Sit down!’
Watch the complete video of the judge’s exchange with the defense
Watch Max Schachter’s statement to defense, shooter
Watch Patricia Padauy Oliver’s statement to defense, shooter
Attorneys argue about testimony during the sentencing hearing
Watch the 4 p.m. report
Watch the 5 p.m. report
Watch the 6 p.m. report