FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A judge has set a hearing on an attempt by defense attorneys in Florida’s high school massacre case to remove the state prosecutors because they won’t reconsider seeking the death penalty for the defendant.
Attorneys for 20-year-old Nikolas Cruz say in a court motion that Broward State Attorney Michael Satz informed them he will consider no evidence that would argue against capital punishment, known as mitigation, such as mental health or other issues that could be involved.
The motion says Satz has compared Cruz to serial killer Ted Bundy, claiming he said Cruz is “evil, worse than Ted Bundy.” The defense lawyers say Satz is “in violation of his constitutional duties” as a prosecutor to not consider mitigation factors in whether to pursue the death penalty.
There is ample evidence that Cruz had multiple mental problems for years before the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 and wounded 17 others. And his lawyers say that should be taken into account.
“No type of crime, regardless of its nature, automatically dictates the death penalty is the correct punishment for an individual,” defense attorneys Melisa McNeill and David Frankel wrote in their motion.
If Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer granted the defense motion at a hearing set for Friday, it would mean a state attorney’s office from another jurisdiction would be appointed to prosecute the case. That would likely translate into months of delay for a trial currently set to begin in January.
Satz responded that the motion is another attempt to prevent a Broward County jury from deciding Cruz’s fate. Cruz’s lawyers have said he will plead guilty in exchange for a life prison sentence, but prosecutors will not agree to that.
And they are not about to step aside.
“Just as a defendant does not have the ability to choose his or her criminal penalty, a defendant does not have the ability to choose which prosecutor will try his or her case,” Satz’s office responded.
Cruz did not appear at a brief hearing Monday, but Scherer said he must be there for the argument Friday on whether the prosecutors should be removed from the case. The threshold for doing so is very high, but not impossible, according to court documents.
By CURT ANDERSON
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