Kin of Victims in Marjory Stoneman School Shooting Allowed to Be Heard in Court

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the families of victims in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting are permitted to read statements aloud in court.

Scherer agreed with prosecutors that said the statements will be written in advance and given to defendant Nikolas Cruz's attorneys before parents read them to the jury. The defense will then have an opportunity to object if they believe anything written would be unfair, Scherer and prosecutors said.

Public defenders representing Cruz, 23, who pleaded guilty in October to the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, attempted to prohibit the families of victims from testifying before the jury about the shooting.

Cruz's attorneys requested that victim impact statements be read aloud by a neutral third party or played on video to the jurors. Attorney Tamara Curtis said that Cruz's constitutional right to a fair trial could be violated if victims' families are permitted to speak directly to the jury, as it may result in "overly emotional displays."

Scherer has already previously ordered that parents or others are restricted from calling Cruz phrases, like "animal" or "that thing." Some victims' parents had done so in media interviews, according to the Associated Press. Scherer agreed with Cruz's attorneys that calling Cruz such phrases would be too much, but wouldn't restrict families from calling Cruz only by his name or "the defendant."

"Some words and terms the Defendant requests not to be used, such as 'school shooter,' 'murderer,' or 'killer,' in and of themselves are not derogatory," Scherer wrote, according to AP. "They are normal words that may be used to describe particular facts."

Nikolas Cruz, Victims' Families, Statements, Trial
Public defenders representing Nikolas Cruz, 23, who pleaded guilty in October to the February 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School School shooting in Parkland, Florida, attempted to prohibit the families of victims from testifying before the jury. Above, Cruz is shown with defense attorney David Wheeler during a hearing at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Nov. 15, 2021. Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool

"What the defendant is seeking is that the victims in this case be neutralized and they shouldn't be. They have a right under Florida law ... to be heard and they have a right to voice their feelings," assistant prosecutor Carolyn McCann said.

She said prosecutors have no incentive to let a parent say something about Cruz that would result in a death sentence being overturned.

"No one wants to do this again," McCann said.

For Cruz to be sentenced to death, the 12-member jury must unanimously agree. If one disagrees, he will receive a life sentence. Jury selection had been set to begin next month, but it now won't likely start until February or March. The trial has been delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak and arguments over what evidence and testimony will be permitted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nikolas Cruz, Victims' Families, Statements, Trial
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer has previously ordered that parents or others are restricted from calling Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooter Nikolas Cruz phrases, like “animal” or “that thing,” as some parents have in media interviews. Above, Cruz puts his hand to his chest while his defense attorneys, David Wheeler, left, and Melisa McNeill, motion for him to sign a document at the Broward County Courthouse on Oct. 20, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Amy Beth Bennett/Pool/Getty Images