Parkland shooting trial: Judge lashes out at defense lawyers after they rested their case

A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz, 23, is sentenced to death or life in prison for massacring 17 people

The judge in Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz's penalty trial tore into the defense team Wednesday morning after they abruptly rested their case without any advance warning to the court. 

"At this time, the defense rests," Melisa McNeill declared.

"We're not playing chess," said Broward County (Florida) Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, visibly annoyed. "This is the most uncalled for, unprofessional way to try the case."

The court had expected 40 more defense witnesses to take the stand when McNeill made the unexpected announcement. Because of the lack of advance warning, prosecutors had not prepared rebuttal witnesses, and the jurors would have to be sent home.   

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Broward County Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer dresses down Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz's defense lawyer Melisa McNeill on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. The defense team abruptly rested, giving the state no time to prepare for its rebuttal case and forcing the trial to go dark, the judge said.

Broward County Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer dresses down Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz's defense lawyer Melisa McNeill on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. The defense team abruptly rested, giving the state no time to prepare for its rebuttal case and forcing the trial to go dark, the judge said. (Trial proceedings via Law & Crime network)

"I honestly have never experienced [this] level of unprofessionalism in my career. It's, it's unbelievable," the judge fumed. When McNeill tried to defend herself on the record, Scherer shut her down. 

"I don't want to hear it, I don't want hear it," Scherer scolded.  "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."

Nikolas Cruz, 23, in court on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022, at his penalty trial. 

Nikolas Cruz, 23, in court on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022, at his penalty trial.  (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

The trial will resume Sept. 27 with the state's rebuttal case, which is expected to take about a week. 

Cruz pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of first-degree murder for the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre of students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

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The penalty trial, which has entered its second month, will determine whether Cruz is sentenced to death or life in prison. 

Students are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, during the shooting that took place there in February.

Students are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, during the shooting that took place there in February. (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

His defense team has argued that he suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome after his biological mother abused drugs and alcohol when she was pregnant.

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His adoptive mother could not cope with his severe mental and emotional deficits, which were never properly treated, McNeill told jurors.