Judge Deals Setbacks To Parkland School Shooter Defense

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The ground rules are being set for what jurors can and cannot hear in the upcoming death penalty phase of the trial of the Parkland school shooter, and now he has lost two of what promises to be a flurry of such rulings in coming weeks.

In an order signed Tuesday, Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the defense cannot try to deflect blame from his actions onto others by using "systems failures" as an excuse, defense or motivation of his mass murder.

So the jury will not hear, for example:

  • that the FBI failed to follow-up on a tip he would be a school shooter
  • that the school system mishandled his educational plan before he dropped out
  • that the county’s radio system led to chaos and miscommunication, delaying proper responses
  • whether the sheriff’s office failed to properly train its school resource deputy
  • whether mental heath professionals failed to adequately treat him.

"Any such systems failures, while certainly important aspects of the incident which should be reviewed and addressed in an appropriate venue, are not relevant to the defense mitigation case during the penalty phase of this trial," Scherer wrote.

The judge also denied a defense motion to obtain evidence from a statewide grand jury that investigated school security issues.

Grand jury testimony is presumed to be secret and can be revealed only when a party establishes a particular need, not "mere surmise or speculation," Scherer wrote.

The defense claimed the evidence of school system failures is relevant to his moral culpability, but — citing the same cases she did in barring testimony about “systems failures” — Scherer disagreed.

The gunman pleaded guilty last week to 17 counts of first-degree murder in the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

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