On Wednesday, September 14, 2022, Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz's defense lawyers unexpectedly rested their case moments after the start of the court session, leaving the judge and the prosecutors shocked.
Nikolas Cruz's defense attorneys, who were supposed to bring 80 witnesses to the stand, rested their case abruptly after 25 witnesses were brought in. Lead attorney Melisa McNeill's announcement to cut the defense testimony short did not sit well with the judge. This was followed by a heated exchange between McNeill and Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who accused the Defense of being highly unprofessional for not informing her about the change beforehand. She called their ways:
"The most uncalled for, unprofessional way to try a case."
Elizabeth Scherer also accused the defense of wasting the time of the 12-member jury who were preparing to enter the courtroom. Moreover, the defense's decision to rest the case early caught the prosecutors off guard, who were waiting to hear from another 40 defense witnesses. When asked if the prosecution could proceed with their rebuttal, lead prosecutor Mike Satz nervously replied in the negative.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer calls Nikolas Cruz’s defense team unprofessional
Commenting on the latest developments inside the courtroom, according to CBS News, a displeased Scherer, whose relationship with McNeill has been rocky since the start of the pretrial hearings, said:
"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."
After Scherer's chastisement, Nikolas Cruz's lawyer accused her of insulting her in front of her client, to which she replied:
"You've been insulting me the entire trial. Blatantly taking your headphones off, arguing with me, storming out, coming late intentionally if you don't like my rulings. So, quite frankly, this has been long overdue. So please be seated."
In total, there have been 11 days of defense testimony, with the last two including expert opinions on Nikolas Cruz's mother's alcohol abuse while she was pregnant with him, which could have affected his brain development.
Nikolas Cruz's defense focused completely on his questionable parentage
Nikolas Cruz, solely responsible for 2018's Parkland High School shooting massacre, has been on trial since the start of the year. The ongoing penalty trial will determine his punishment -- a death sentence or a life imprisonment sentence without parole.
Following the prosecution's strong case for the death penalty, which included several testimonies from witnesses, students, teachers, and parents of the deceased, and frightening surveillance videos of Nikolas Cruz firing his AR-15 rifle in halls and into classrooms, the defense molded their case around his problematic childhood.
Apart from his troubled childhood with Lynda Cruz, the defense also focused on Cruz's birth mother's severe alcohol abuse during her pregnancy. Dr. Kenneth Jones testified that his mother's alcohol abuse could have left him with a disorder related to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He said:
"I have never, ever in my life seen an individual who has seen affected (this much) by prenatal exposure to alcohol."
According to Paul Connor, a Seattle-based neuropsychologist, Brenda Woodard, Nikolas Cruz's birth mother, used cocaine throughout the duration of her pregnancy, as can be understood from medical reports and witness testimonies.
The jury is set to return on September 27 for the prosecution's rebuttal case. According to Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, the closing arguments are set to begin on October 10. For Cruz to receive the death penalty, all the judges must be in unanimous agreement.