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Judge won’t step down from Stoneman Douglas mass shooting case

Nikolas Cruz Trial
In this Monday, Jan. 27, 2020 photo, Judge Elizabeth Scherer receives documents from prosecutor Maria Schneider during a pre-trial hearing at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on four criminal counts stemming from Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s alleged attack on a Broward jail guard in November 2018. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

(FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA) — Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer overseeing the penalty trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz refuses to step down from the case.

On Monday, she rejected a motion by Cruz’s attorneys who accused her of being biased against their client and prejudicing the jurors. Scherer said the motion was “legally insufficient.”

The defense wanted Scherer off the case because, in their eyes, she took her criticism of their team too far when they rested without warning last week. Scherer last week criticized defense attorney Melisa McNeill and her team outside the jury’s presence, accusing them of being “unprofessional” when they unexpectedly rested their case after only about 25 of the 80 witnesses they had told her and prosecutors they intended to testify had been called.

The defense said in court documents filed last week that those comments and ones the judge later made to the jury were “the zenith of the cumulative disdain” they allege Scherer has shown throughout the case toward Cruz and themselves. The defense had no obligation to call all its proposed witnesses or notify the judge or prosecution when they planned to rest, legal observers have said.

Prosecutors argued in court documents that Scherer’s comments didn’t rise to the level of demonstrating bias against Cruz.

If Scherer had stepped down, a mistrial would have been declared. The new judge would have required months of preparation before a new trial could be held.

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty last October to murdering 14 students and three staff members at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. His trial, which began with jury selection in April and testimony in July, is only to determine if he is sentenced to death or life without parole. For him to receive a death sentence, the jury must be unanimous.

The trial is now scheduled to resume Sept. 27 and conclude the week of Oct. 10.