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Defense rests in Parkland sentencing trial, and students blocked from attending a play in Miami-Dade Public Schools

Nilo Cruz on a stage
Miami Herald

The long-awaited criminal trial for the confessed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter hit an unexpected point this week. The shooter has confessed to killing 17 people, but the trial is about whether he should get the death penalty or not.

On Wednesday, the defense attorneys abruptly announced that they were resting their case. That’s even though they only called 26 witnesses out of a list of 80 witnesses they told the court they wanted to call.

The defense decided they had done enough to keep Nikolas Cruz from getting the death penalty. The manner they rested the case stirred Judge Scherer to respond with an outburst.

She called the way they handled the case “uncalled for” and “unprofessional,” stating that she had “never experienced a level of unprofessionalism in my career.” She was upset about a wasted day in a high-profile case.

She also said that the defense has been disrespectful throughout the whole process, occasionally coming in late and removing their headsets when there is a ruling they don’t like.

“Legal experts and lawyers that I’ve spoken with say that even if this stuff is true … The judge is supposed to be kind of the cool, calm, collected voice in the room and not have those outbursts,” said Gerard Albert III, WLRN’s Broward reporter.

Albert said the defense was going to rest their case eventually. They had 80 witnesses listed, and they aren’t required to go through all 80. It was abrupt, but some lawyers he spoke to that have been watching the case said this was probably a strategic move.

“When you go as long as they’ve been going, you risk losing the jury’s interest — you risk them not paying attention as much,” he said. And it could also have been that the witnesses they might have brought could’ve been harmful to their case when the prosecutors cross-examined them.”

The state’s rebuttal case is tentatively scheduled for September 27. Closing arguments are slated for the first and second weeks of October. Follow Gerard’s reporting on the Parkland shooting sentencing trial here.

"Anna in the Tropics pulled from Miami-Dade County Schools"

Cuban-native Nilo Cruz came to Miami as a child and became a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. He won the Pulitzer for Drama in 2003 for the play “Anna In The Tropics,” a play that takes place in a Tampa cigar rolling factory near the end of a historic wave of Cuban immigrants to Central Florida.

That play has been shown to students at Miami-Dade schools for years now. But this year, the school district objected, saying the subject matter is inappropriate for high schoolers. And this happens in the midst of laws and guidance from the state dictating what can be taught.

This decision removes the play from the district’s Cultural Passport program, a program designed to expose Miami-Dade County K-12 public school students to a variety of cultural experiences.

The district defended its position and objected to nine parts of the script they considered to be “sexually explicit” or inappropriate for school-aged children. One of the examples cited is a stage note referencing lovemaking on top of a table.

The art community sees this as censorship and the stifling of creative freedom. Michel Hausmann, Artistic Director of Miami New Drama, said students shouldn’t be prevented from seeing works of art and culture.

“How many Nilo Cruzes are we aborting by not allowing the students to encounter world-class theater?” he said.

Hausmann said this decision has left Cruz in mourning, as he is a graduate of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

The Colony Theater on Miami Beach will be showing “Anna in the Tropics” January 12 to February 5 of 2023. Nilo Cruz will be directing the show himself.

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Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.