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Parkland shooting judge denies defense request to replace her after heated exchange last week

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The judge who oversaw the Parkland school shooter’s criminal trial on Monday denied a motion by defense lawyers to have her replaced by a new judge, after a dramatic week during the trial, including a heated exchange between her and counsel. The motion, filed on Friday, alleged that the judge revealed long-standing animosity towards the defense during the exchange that threatens the fairness of the trial.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer’s one-page injunction did not discuss any of the specific allegations made in Friday’s motion, but deemed the request “legally inadequate,” according to a copy of the document obtained by CBS News.

The motion alleged that Scherer’s conduct during an argument with defense counsel on Wednesday showed “prolonged” hostility that “infected” the proceedings and prevented their client, Nikolas Cruz, from getting a fair trial.

Cruz pleaded guilty last year to the murder of 14 students and three staff members in a 2017 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, and this trial is only for determining whether he has been sentenced to death or life without parole. .

The spat began after the defense team dropped their case early Wednesday morning after calling only about 25 witnesses, when they originally told the judge they planned to call about 80. witnesses to the defense.

The sudden announcement by lead attorney Melisa McNeill sparked a tense discussion between her and Scherer, who called the decision “the most inappropriate, unprofessional way to handle a case.”

Shooting School Florida
Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks sharply, calling lead attorney Melisa McNeill “unprofessional” after McNeill announced the defense’s intention to rest their case during the sentencing phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School gunman Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, September 14, 2022.

Amy Beth Bennett / AP


Scherer also accused McNeill of insulting her “the whole process” by “shamelessly taking off your headphones, arguing with me, storming out, being deliberately late if you don’t like my statements.”

In their motion Friday, defense attorneys said Scherer’s statements “reasonably have caused Mr. Cruz to fear that the court is biased towards his lawyers and him and that he will not receive a fair and impartial trial in the future.”

The theme of his lawyers in their case was to show how his birth mother’s alcohol abuse during pregnancy set him on a lifelong path of erratic, bizarre and often violent behavior that culminated in the shootings. They also tried to show that his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, became overwhelmed after her husband died when he was 5 and never got him the right treatment.

They’re trying to get over the prosecution’s case, who focused on his massacre when he stalked a three-story classroom building for seven minutes with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle. Chief Prosecutor Mike Satz played security videos of the shooting and showed the rifle he was using. Teachers and students testified that they saw others die.

Prosecutors said it will take them more than a week to prepare their rebuttal case. The trial will provisionally resume on September 27.

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