Parkland shooting suspect’s lawyer says murders shouldn’t be called ‘massacre’ because it’s prejudicial

Defence argues that derogatory terms infringe on Nikolas Cruz’s right to an impartial trial

Graig Graziosi
Thursday 02 September 2021 21:27
Parkland student activists speak to The Independent's Andrew Buncombe about combatting global culture of violence
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The public defenders representing the alleged Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz have called for the judge to prohibit prosecutors from referring to the murder of 17 students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School as a "massacre" or other "inflammatory" terms on the grounds it violates his right to a fair trial.

Mr Cruz is accused of killing his classmates in the 14 February, 2018, mass shooting.

His attorneys also asked for the judge to ban prosecutors and witnesses from calling Mr Cruz "the killer," "an animal," or "the thing," saying he should only be referred to by his name or as "the defendant."

"Can those terms be used outside the courtroom? Yes. Everyone has a First Amendment right to refer to Mr Cruz in any manner they see fit," Melissa McNeill, one of Mr Cruz's attorneys, said. "However, the rules inside a courtroom are different."

She justified her request by noting that the US and Florida supreme courts have ruled that death penalty cases have stricter standards than normal trials and that reaching a verdict must be based solely on the law and not on outside influence or bias.

Prosecutors pushed back on Ms McNeill's request, noting that Mr Cruz used the language himself while he filmed a cellphone video before the shooting. In the video, Mr Cruz calls himself the "next school shooter" and says "this is the day of my massacre."

Nicole Chiappone, one of the prosecutors, argued that if Ms McNeill disagreed with the use of a term during the trial, she should object to it and allow the judge to make a decision.

She said that referring to the mass shooting as an "incident" or "tragedy" minimises the deaths of the 17 students.

The families of the students who were killed in the shooting were incensed by the defence's request.

"The thing that murdered 17 innocent children and staff in the Parkland school massacre is upset that he is being called the killer," Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed in the shooting, tweeted. "He should be treated the exact same way he brutally murdered my Alex."

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was also among those killed, expressed his outrage to the Sun Sentinel.

"Why are they wasting the court's time with this? They've got nothing better to do than argue about what to call him?" he said.

Delays, primarily caused by the coronavirus pandemic, have kept Mr Cruz's trial in limbo for more than a year.

Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz, who is prosecuting the case, urged the judge to bring the case to trial.

"There are 17 families who are waiting for this to get going," he told the judge.

Mr Cruz will also go to trial on 4 October for attacking a Broward County jail guard in 2018. Video captured the attack, in which Mr Cruz charges the guard and begins beating him. The defence plans to argue that the guard mistreated and harassed Mr Cruz, prompting the attack.

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