Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz wants the judge removed from his case after she lashed out at his defense lawyers in court last week.
Attorney Melisa McNeill abruptly announced Wednesday that the defense team planned to rest, prompting Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to rebuke her for not letting the court know in advance so the state could have witnesses ready for their rebuttal case.
In the motion filed Saturday morning, McNeil blasted Scherer for criticizing her professionalism, then telling jurors it was the defense’s fault that the trial would go dark for two weeks to give prosecutors time to prepare.
“The defense had absolutely no legal obligation to advise the State or Court in advance of its intention to rest,” McNeil wrote.
The heated exchange, she said, revealed that the court’s “animosity” toward her is “long-held and has infected this entire trial.” McNeil cited numerous prior examples where, she alleges, the judge inappropriately chastised the defense lawyers.
In an affidavit, Cruz wrote that the judge’s admonishments “cause me to reasonably fear that the Court is biased against my attorneys and me and I will not receive a fair and impartial trial.”
The defense asked for a mistrial and for the judge to recuse herself from the case.
In a reply to the motion, Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann argued that even if the judge made “critical or hostile” comments, these are not grounds for a mistrial.
On Wednesday, Scherer scolded McNeill after learning that the defense did not plan to call any more witnesses.
“We’re not playing chess,” she seethed. “This is the most uncalled-for, unprofessional way to try a case. You all knew about this and even if you didn’t make your decision until this morning, to have 22 people, plus all the staff and every attorney march into court, be waiting as it’s some kind of game – now I have to send them home.”
When McNeill tried to respond, Scherer directed her ire at her. “You have been insulting me the entire trial, so blatantly,” the judge told McNeill. “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.”
The judge has not ruled on the mistrial motion yet.
It is two months into Cruz’s penalty trial for killing 17 people when he opened fired at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14, 2018, in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
He already pleaded guilty, and the trial will only determine whether he is sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole.