Criminal Justice

Defense lawyers for convicted Parkland, Florida, school shooter cry as victims' parents testify

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Photo by Katherine Welles/Shutterstock.

Defense lawyers were unable to avoid shedding tears as parents testified this week about the loss of their children in the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018.

The school shooting left 17 people dead and another 17 injured.

During heartbreaking victim impact statements Tuesday, video showed Chief Public Defender Melisa McNeill wipe away tears, while two assistant public defenders also cried, the Washington Post reports. When a break was called, “crumpled tissues could be seen on the table where the defense team sat—they’d be used again,” the article said.

The shooting suspect, Nikolas Cruz, pleaded guilty in October 2021. The sentencing phase of the trial, which began July 18, is happening to determine whether Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

The Washington Post discussed the crying public defenders with Keith Swisher, a legal ethics professor at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.

Swisher told the Washington Post that lawyers rarely cry in court, especially “based on something the other side has said.” But he said the lawyers were unlikely to face negative consequences given the emotional nature of the case.

“In a typical legal case … the client would likely feel betrayed and perhaps the wrong signal would be sent to the judge or jury if the client’s own attorney cried based on the opposing side’s evidence or arguments,” Swisher said. “If the crying, or other visible signals, possibly bias the jury against the defendant, the defendant might have a basis to appeal.”

Prosecutors seeking the death penalty contend that Cruz’s actions were “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.” He killed 14 children, the athletic director, a coach and a teacher. The prosecution rested its case Thursday, according to WPLG.

See also: “Public defenders ask to step down from Parkland shooting case” “Judge rules school, sheriff’s office had ‘no legal duty’ to protect students in mass shooting” “Judge weighs contempt after paper publishes redacted information about alleged school shooter”

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