(As originally published with bells and whistles, Thu, July 28th 2022, 11:54 AM EDT)
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CBS12) — There won’t be a 45-day postponement right in the middle of Nicholas Cruz’s sentencing trial.
The confessed Parkland school killer’s defense team, fighting for life in prison rather than the death penalty, asked for the continuance after the prosecution finished presenting its case “to allow it to reconfigure its mitigation presentation.”
According to Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer’s Order Denying Defendant’s Motion to Continue, “In early July, the defense learned that one of its experts, Dr. Natalie Novick Brown, a psychologist with a specialty in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and neurodevelopmental disabilities, will be unable to testify in this matter as a result of her doctor recommended medical retirement from forensic trial work.
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“Almost immediately the defense retained a new expert, who it asserts will need several weeks to review records and interview defendant.”
Judge Scherer made it clear the defense has other expert witnesses.
“It is without dispute that defendant has three additional experts in the field of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: Dr. Kenneth Jones, Dr. Paul Connor, and Dr. Richard Adler, a medical doctor and researcher, a neuropsychologist, and a psychiatrist, respectively,” she wrote.
“Its newly hired expert replacing Dr. Brown commenced work on this case in early July, and, presumably, has continued to do so through the remainder of the state’s case-in-chief and beyond. Since the time the defense became aware of Dr. Brown’s unavailability, there have been numerous scheduled days off from trial, half days, and days where court has ended several hours early. Additionally, there remain several upcoming scheduled days off before the state will complete its case-in-chief. All of this time has and will provide the defense additional time to prepare its new expert.”
This week’s testimony is over. Court will not be back in session until Monday. The CBS12 News livestream will continue at that time.
Then, the judge allowed the defense some extra time, but nothing like 45 days, as she shed light on the schedule for upcoming testimony.
“Finally, the state has represented that expects the presentation of its case-in-chief to be completed by August 3rd or 4th,” Judge Scherer wrote. “Friday, August 5th is a scheduled day off. The court will allow the parties an additional week off of trial, from Monday, August 8th, through and including Friday, August 12. This will allow the parties from Friday, August 5th through Sunday, August 14th, to work on any remaining matters, including those specifically raised by the defense in its instant motion for 45 day continuance. The Daubert hearing will be heard as scheduled from Monday, August 15th, through Friday, August 19.”
A Daubert hearing is when lawyers can challenge an expert to evaluate the admissibility of their testimony.
The judge ended with, “Based on the schedule set forth above, this court finds that the defense has been provided more than enough time to prepare its most recently retained expert for trial, including any necessary adjustments to its mitigation presentation. The court notes, the defense has had a minimum of five or more seasoned attorneys working on this case at all times.”
The defense — which has not yet presented its opening statement — is looking for mitigating factors, such as Cruz having no criminal history, to convince the jury he should be sentenced to life in prison. A jury vote for the death penalty would have to be unanimous, but Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder, so the jury will actually vote 17 times.
This is the latest loss for the defense team filing motions in this case.
Every day since the start of the penalty trial on July 18, the defense has objected to prosecution evidence and testimony, saying it’s not necessary since Cruz confessed, and it could inflame jurors against their client.
But prosecutors have to prove Cruz committed at least one aggravating circumstance specified under state law for jurors to agree on a death sentence, and the judge has allowed everything.
The trial is expected to last into October.