By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Over prosecutors’ objections, Nikolas Cruz’s defense got the go-ahead Friday for a professional production company to film the “preserved” crime scene at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland where Cruz admits he shot and killed 17 students and faculty and wounded 17 others more than three years ago.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer OK’d filming inside the three-story 1200 Building, also known as the Freshman Building, after defense lawyers warned that the state’s objection to allowing access to the film crew could, if granted, “easily cause reversible error, requiring this case be tried again.”
The defense’s film crew was given access to the site beginning last Sunday, June 13, for two hours. Further access was granted for another nine hours each on June 15 and 16. “The parties shall coordinate with each other to ensure that proper security and safeguards are in place such that the integrity of the crime scene is maintained,” Scherer wrote in her order granting access.
In December, the judge granted the prosecution’s motion to allow the trial jury to be shown the interior and exterior of the 1200 Building, as well as a driving view of Cruz’s alleged escape path to where he was captured. In response, earlier this month Cruz’s defense team asked Scherer to allow them to “fully document the scene as it currently appears and will appear to Mr. Cruz’s jury,” saying it would be needed for any appeal.
No trial date has been set. Cruz has indicated he’d plead guilty and accept 34 consecutive life sentences. The state is insisting on the death penalty.
Prosecutors contended that giving a film crew with no law-enforcement training access to that preserved crime scene would pose a “tremendous burden” on the Broward Sheriff’s Office, and was “unnecessary” because “what they seek to create already exists. There is body worn camera, BSO crime scene video, surveillance of the school, FHP LEICA station video, LizardQ video, which is a 360 [degree] view, and hundreds of crime scene photos all of which have been produced in discovery.”
The defense took aim at the decades-long trial record of lead prosecutor – and former Broward State Attorney – Mike Satz.
Prosecutor Satz’s record at issue
“The Broward State Attorney’s Office is quite familiar with death penalty convictions being reversed by the courts, because Broward County, under the leadership of lead prosecutor Michael Satz, leads the State of Florida in death penalty case reversals. Many times, these reversals are due to prosecutorial misconduct and overreaching,” wrote Melisa McNeill, chief assistant public defender, and Tamara Curtis, assistant public defender in court papers filed last week.
“The defense is hopeful that the newly elected State Attorney, Harold Pryor, will not continue Michael Satz[‘s] legacy of having the most death penalty cases reversed in the State of Florida,” they said.
Assistant State Attorneys Nicole Chiappone and Jeff Marcus labeled those remarks “unprofessional insults.”
Still, in addition to death penalty reversals the state attorney’s office under Satz was a party to grievous miscarriages of justice in which long-imprisoned defendants were freed after being exonerated by DNA tests or other evidence. In cases where evidence of police misconduct existed, it was not prosecuted.
Cruz was a 19-year-old former student when police say he entered the high school’s campus about 2:20 p.m. on Valentine’s Day 2018 armed with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle and began shooting students in the hallways of the 1200 building. He brought extra loaded magazines in his black backpack. Cruz has been held at the Broward County Jail without bond ever since.