As it happenedended1519763047

Nikolas Cruz court hearing cancelled: Appearance of Florida school shooting suspect dropped at last minute

Teenager is alleged to have carried out deadliest high school shooting in US history

Chris Baynes
Tuesday 27 February 2018 21:43
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Nikolas Cruz is accused of murdering 17 people
Nikolas Cruz is accused of murdering 17 people

A scheduled court appearance by the teenager alleged to have carried out the Florida high school massacre has been cancelled at the last minute.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, was expected to make his third appearance at a Broward County criminal court on Tuesday morning charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

The court had been set to hear prosecutors apply for hair samples, fingerprints, DNA and photographs of Mr Cruz as they build a case against him.

But minutes before the hearing was due to start, it disappeared from the court's list without explanation. Mr Cruz's lawyer later said defence attorneys had reached a deal with prosecutors to hand over the samples.

The teenager is alleged to have shot dead 14 pupils and three staff members at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on 14 February in the deadliest high school shooting in US history.

Mr Cruz's publicly appointed defender, Gordon Weekes, said the deal with prosecutors had been reached late on Monday.

"There was no reason to push back," Mr Weekes said. "It was a routine motion that the state attorney had filed. We submitted an agreed order and there was no need for a court to hear the motion."

The hearing would have been the third courtroom appearance for Mr Cruz since the shooting.

His case is due to return to court on Wednesday, when a hearing will determine whether he has sufficient assets to pay for his own defence. It is not clear if he will attend the hearing.

Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz arrives at Broward County jail

The massacre, carried out with a legally purchased AR-15 assault rifle, has inflamed the long-running US debate on gun rights.

The shooting has rattled long-drawn political lines on gun rights in the country, where Republican officials have long opposed efforts by firearms control advocates to tighten ownership laws, partly out of concern about retribution by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby group.

US President Donald Trump, a Republican who backed gun rights during and since his 2016 presidential campaign, has been under pressure to show he is responding without alienating Republicans who oppose firearms restrictions.

On Monday, he met with 35 governors, urging them to disregard pressure from the NRA as they seek to address firearms safety and school security.

Mr Trump has embraced the call to safeguard schools by arming teachers but also has voiced support for strengthening background checks for prospective gun buyers - a proposal the NRA has traditionally resisted.

This live blog has now finished.

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Welcome to The Independent's live coverage as Florida shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz's case appears in court. He is charged with 17 counts of murder.

Chris Baynes27 February 2018 12:33
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The hearing at Broward County criminal court is expected to begin at about 8.45am local time (1.45pm GMT). The court will hear prosecutors' application to obtain evidence from Cruz.

Chris Baynes27 February 2018 12:40
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Chris Baynes27 February 2018 13:15
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Nikolas Cruz's appearance in a Florida court today appears to have been cancelled. 

The hearing has been removed from the court list with no immediate explanation. We'll bring you more details when we have them.

Chris Baynes27 February 2018 13:20
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In a separate court matter, Cruz's lawyers are seeking to disqualify a judge from presiding over the case.

The defence says in court papers that Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer is biased in favour of prosecutors, threatening Cruz's right to a fair trial. 

Chris Baynes27 February 2018 13:47
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In a separate development, the Broward County Sheriff's Office could be facing legal action over the failure of one of its deputies to enter a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as 17 pupils and staff were shot dead.

Law enforcement officers are generally immune to legal claims over inaction, as courts have held they need to be able to make decisions without fear of liability.

However, legal experts said the Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Sheriff Scot Peterson could fall under a “special relationship” exception because Mr Peterson was specifically assigned to protect pupils at the Parkland school. 

Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University who has written a book on gun litigation, told Reuters: “The children and teachers justifiably relied on him and his unique level of knowledge to protect them."

He said any lawsuit, to succeed, would would need to show that lives would have been saved if Mr Peterson had intervened.

Chris Baynes27 February 2018 14:05
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Today's scheduled court hearing was cancelled after prosecutors struck a deal with defence attorneys, according to Cruz's lawyer.

Prosecutors had been scheduled to seek hair and DNA samples from Cruz, but Broward County prosecutors and the suspect's publicly appointed defender, Gordon Weekes, reached a deal late on Monday to provide those samples, making the hearing unnecessary.

"There was no reason to push back," Mr Weekes said. "It was a routine motion that the state attorney had filed. We submitted an agreed order and there was no need for a court to hear the motion."

Chris Baynes27 February 2018 14:15
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Cruz's case is due to return to court tomorrow when a hearing will determine whether he has sufficient assets to pay for his own defence, according to his lawyer Gordon Weekes.

It will be the teenager's third courtroom appearance since the 14 February shooting.

Chris Baynes27 February 2018 14:29
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A judge has refused to step aside from the case of Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, as his lawyers had requested.

Court records show that Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the request on Monday. 

Cruz's lawyers claimed Scherer has made rulings and comments that indicate favoritism for prosecutors. They say in court papers that Cruz can't get a fair trial, but Scherer disagreed. 

Cruz's lawyers' concerns revolve around a debate last week on whether to keep a defence confidential motion secret.

Chris Baynes27 February 2018 14:41
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We're wrapping up this live blog now. Thanks for following.

Chris Baynes27 February 2018 15:15

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