Lawyers for school gunman want preliminary hearings closed

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Lawyers for the suspect in the 2018 Florida high school massacre told a judge on Tuesday that the media and the public should be excluded from all pre-trial hearings, saying the law of Nikolas Cruz to an impartial jury would be irrevocably compromised. if some evidence is revealed before the jurors are seated.

Deputy Chief Public Defender David Wheeler told Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that discussing at public pre-trial hearings evidence that could be excluded or barred “would let the cat out of the bag” and create media coverage that would hurt the potential pool. of jurors.

Wheeler said public opinion of Cruz, 22, has already been marred by media coverage. Cruz is accused of killing 17 people and injuring 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018.

Prosecutors and media attorneys have argued that a blanket order prohibiting journalists from attending hearings would violate Florida law. They said the defense should request a closed session whenever specific evidence is discussed that it considers harmful – and show how its public disclosure would undermine Cruz’s rights to a fair trial.

Prosecutor Steven Klinger told the judge that Cruz’s lawyers can file generic motions that do not detail the evidence they wish to discuss in secret. The judge could then review the evidence in private to determine what to do next. For example, he said, she had done it before, sealing parts of Cruz’s confession to detectives hours after the shooting.

“There are ways around this,” Klinger said.

Media attorney Deanna Shullman told Scherer that reporters are public witnesses to ensure that she, prosecutors and the defense are all doing their jobs properly and should only be banned in extreme circumstances.

“Everyone thinks access is about our ability to review what the accused did or the right to review evidence of their crimes,” said Shullman, who represented ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN and several other media companies. “That’s not at all what it is. It is about the public’s right to monitor all actors in this process.

The Associated Press is one of the media companies opposing the shutdown, but is represented by another lawyer.

Scherer said she would rule next week, but seemed skeptical of Wheeler’s arguments. At one point, she seemed ready to suspend the hearing and dismiss her motion before being dismissed by Klinger, who said the defense should be allowed to present their full case.

Under a 1982 Florida Supreme Court ruling, pre-trial hearings are presumed to be open and media can only be banned if the defense proves that a closed hearing will prevent “a serious and imminent threat. for the administration of justice ”, will in fact protect the accused’s right to a fair trial and no jury instructions or other remedies for any pre-trial media coverage are available, except for moving the trial to a other county.

California consultant Bryan Edelman, testifying for Cruz’s lawyers, told the judge that studies show jurors who have been exposed to significant media coverage are more likely to have a negative view of the credibility and sympathy of accused, find them less sympathetic and are more likely to convict them. They are also more likely to consider evidence mentioned in the media but excluded at trial, often mistakenly believing they heard it during their testimony, he said.

He said typical solutions such as questioning potential jurors about their media exposure during selection and the judge’s standard instructions to the jury to disregard anything heard outside the courtroom. hearing are not effective in high profile trials.

Edelman said there had already been many articles that he considered detrimental to Cruz’s right to a fair trial, including reporting that he confessed. On cross-examination, he admitted that he had not interviewed potential jurors in Broward County, but said “there is nothing special” that would make the area immune from such media influence.

Cruz, a former student of Stoneman Douglas, has pleaded not guilty, but his lawyers have said he will plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Prosecutors rejected the proposal, saying they would seek the death penalty. No trial date has been set.

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This version corrects the spelling of the judge’s last name.


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