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Nikolas Cruz can't be called 'animal' during trial, judge rules

'School shooter,' 'murderer' not derogatory terms, Judge Elizabeth Scherer says
Nikolas Cruz closeup in mask, July 14, 2021
Posted at 2:50 PM, Sep 03, 2021

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A judge said a former student accused of killing 17 people at a South Florida high school cannot be called "animal" or "that thing" during his upcoming trial.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled Friday that it's impossible to create a complete list of words prosecutors and witnesses won't be allowed to use to describe Nikolas Cruz.

She sided with his lawyers in ruling out derogatory terms when he's tried for the 2018 killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

But she rejected a defense request that Cruz not be called "school shooter," "killer" or "murderer."

"Some words and terms the Defendant requests not to be used, such as 'school shooter, 'murderer,' or 'killer,' in and of themselves are not derogatory," Scherer wrote. "They are normal words that may be used to describe particular facts."

Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks during hearing for Nikolas Cruz, July 13, 2021
Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks during a status hearing in the case of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse, July 13, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

She also said that the request by Cruz's attorneys that the killings only be referred to as "the incident," the "mass shooting" or "the tragedy" also goes too far, saying terms like "massacre" are legitimate and not derogatory or inflammatory.

Still, she cautioned prosecutors that they must act professionally when referring to Cruz and warn their witnesses to avoid obviously derogatory names when testifying about him. She said if Cruz's attorneys believe anyone crosses the line, they can object immediately and she will rule in court.

"A trial is not the time for the attorneys to editorialize or give their opinions of a defendant," she said. "The trial attorneys shall present the evidence, and the jury shall make their determinations based on the evidence presented."

Cruz, 22, has pleaded not guilty, but his attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty and have rejected the offer.

No trial date has been set.