Defense For Confessed Parkland Shooter, Prosecutors Disagree Over Release Of Information

Mar 22, 2019

Attorneys for the confessed Parkland school shooter and Florida prosecutors continued to disagree on Friday over the state’s pace of releasing evidence to the defense.

During a status hearing with Nikolas Cruz present, public defender Melisa McNeill complained that Florida has not turned over all requested police body camera footage and other information from investigations related to the shooting. Prosecutors countered, saying the state has released all of the requested evidence it has.

Broward Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer settled the dispute by reiterating that the state must turn over investigative reports in a timely manner and ordering prosecutors to release all requested body cam footage in 10 days. She also called on Broward law enforcement agencies to release to the state any requested investigation information they may have withheld.

“If there are reports that are not being turned over, that’s not acceptable,” Scherer told prosecutors. “Put these agencies on notice that if there are outstanding reports or reports that have not been turned over at this time…I’m going to have them in here to explain why.”

The dispute over what evidence the state must release has continued for months as both sides prepare for a potential trial start in January 2020.

Cruz’s defense has said he will plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. The state has rejected the offer and is seeking the death penalty.

Given his past confession, the trial is expected to focus on Cruz’s mental and emotional problems. McNeill argued the delays in receiving evidence and body came footage is hindering the defense’s preparation for trial. The defense is relying on mental health experts to review the footage, she said.

“We have given our experts the videos that we have, and then all of sudden there’s another video” released that depicts Cruz’s arrest, McNeill told Scherer. “That delays our proceedings." 

Assistant State Attorney Nicole Chiappone conceded that there have been occasional delays due to prosecutor and police error. But she added that the state has released all requested body cam footage and double-checked that no videos are outstanding.

“As we get files, as we get footage, we’re going to do our due diligence, we’re going to review it. If it comports with their request, we’re going to turn it over,” Chiappone said.

Although Scherer ordered prosecutors to release any outstanding reports and footage, she and McNeill had a tense exchange during the hearing.

McNeill accused Scherer of misquoting her about whether she needs to depose again an officer whose body cam footage was not turned over in a timely manner. Scherer said that McNeill had said that after defense attorneys received the video, they did not need to again interview the officer. McNeill jumped in, saying that's not what she said.

The two proceeded to briefly argue, with Scherer saying McNeill was acting disrespectful and calling for her to "take it down a notch" and "take a deep breath." The judge called a five-minute recess before continuing the hearing.