Chicago Sun-Times

Judge, defense in heated exchange in Parkland shooting case


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Attorneys for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz suddenly and surprising­ly rested their case Wednesday after calling only a fraction of their expected witnesses, leading to a shouting match after the judge accused them of a lack of profession­alism.

Cruz’s attorneys had told the judge and prosecutor­s they would be calling 80 witnesses but rested at the beginning of Wednesday’s court session after calling only about 25. There were 11 days of defense testimony overall, the last two spotlighti­ng experts about how his birth mother’s heavy use of alcohol during pregnancy might have affected his brain’s developmen­t and led to his murder of 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four years ago.

The sudden announceme­nt by lead attorney Melisa McNeill led to a heated exchange between her and Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who called the decision without warning to her or the prosecutio­n “the most uncalled for, unprofessi­onal way to try a case.”

The 12-member jury and 10 alternates were not present but were lining up outside the courtroom to enter. The sudden announceme­nt also meant prosecutor­s weren’t ready to start their rebuttal case.

Lead prosecutor Mike Satz threw his hands up when Scherer asked if he could begin and, with a nervous laugh, said “no.”

“We’re waiting for 40 more [defense] witnesses,” Satz said.

Scherer then accused Cruz’s attorneys of being inconsider­ate to all involved, but especially the jurors for wasting their trip to court.

“To have 22 people march into court and be waiting as if it is some kind of game. I have never experience­d such a level of unprofessi­onalism in my career,” Scherer said, raising her voice.

McNeill countered angrily, “You are insulting me on the record in front of my client,” before Scherer told her to stop.

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