Nikolas Cruz Can't Be Called Names, Parkland Killings Can Be 'Massacre' At Trial: Judge

Nikolas Cruz, the former student accused in the 2018 shooting at a Florida high school, cannot be called derogatory names by prosecutors or their witnesses at his upcoming trial, but calling the killing a "massacre" is allowed, the judge ruled.

In a ruling released Friday, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer outlined which terms could and could not be used regarding Cruz and the shooting when he's tried for the Feb. 18, 2018, killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland.

Scherer said that while it's impossible to compile a complete list of words that jurors shouldn't hear to describe Cruz, the use of derogatory terms such as "animal" or "that thing" during the trial would not be permitted.

The request came from Cruz's attorneys, who also asked for the killings to only be referred to as "the incident," the "mass shooting" or "the tragedy." Scherer rejected that request, saying terms like "massacre" are legitimate and not derogatory or inflammatory, and so can be used by prosecutors and their witnesses.

Cruz is accused of murdering 17 people at the high school, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Nikolas Cruz trial
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled that Nikolas Cruz, accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine's Day, cannot be called derogatory names during the trial. Cruz appears in court with his attorneys Melisa McNeill (L) and Diane Cuddihy (R) in front of Scherer for a hearing on April 11, 2018, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Taimy Alvarez/Pool/Getty Images

Scherer sided with Cruz's attorneys that calling him names like "animal" or "that thing" during testimony, as some victims' parents have done in media interviews, would cross the line. But she said the defense request this week that Cruz only be called by his name or "the defendant" goes too far.

"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. "They are normal words that may be used to describe particular facts."

Still, she cautioned prosecutors that they must act professionally when referring to Cruz, and warn their witnesses to avoid obviously derogatory names when testifying about him. She said if Cruz's attorneys believe anyone crosses the line, they can object immediately and she will rule in court.

"A trial is not the time for the attorneys to editorialize or give their opinions of a defendant," she said. "The trial attorneys shall present the evidence, and the jury shall make their determinations based on the evidence presented."

Cruz, 22, has pleaded not guilty, but his attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty and have rejected the offer.

No trial date has been set.

Nikolas Cruz
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in a ruling released Friday, Sept. 3, 2021 said it would be impossible to create a complete list of words prosecutors and witnesses can’t use at Nikolas Cruz’s upcoming trial for the 2018 killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. In this Dec. 10, 2019 Cruz appears at a hearing in Fort Lauderdale Fla. Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File