Stoneman Douglas

Judge Orders Parkland Massacre Defense To Pick Up Pace

Aiming for a September start to the death penalty trial, the judge has ordered the defense to have him evaluated by mental health experts by July 31 -- a month sooner than the defense had planned.

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The death penalty trial of the man who's confessed to the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland is still on track for a September start - but barely.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Wednesday ordered the defense to pick up the pace.

Her latest order - speeding up the process by a month - came in a dispute over when the killer would be seen in jail by defense mental health experts.

In a hearing Tuesday, the defense revealed its last scheduled expert jail visit would come at the end of August.

Prosecutors objected because they would not see that expert‘s report - if one were produced - until a September trial was about to start.

Former state attorney Michael Satz - staying on as an assistant state attorney to seek the death penalty for the man who killed 17 and wounded 17 others on Feb. 14, 2018 - told Scherer, "As you well know, there are 17 families waiting for this to get on.... You set a tentative date for September, I mean, we’ve been complying with discovery. We would hope we’d get discovery back so we can proceed with what we have to do."

Scherer replied at that hearing, "I mean I’m happy to set a deadline if that will move things along."

And that's what she did with Wednesday's order, telling the defense to have all experts evaluate and test the confessed killer a month sooner than it planned, by July 31.

The defense could use the results to argue he was insane or, once convicted, to urge jurors not to give him the death penalty.

But the state has a right to see any expert reports and bring in its own to counter the conclusions, something Satz said would take time.

One of the defense attorneys, Tamara Curtis, told Scherer Tuesday that "we started having experts going in. We’re going to have experts going in throughout the summer. Until they go in, we don't know, we don't have any information to give them (the state) at the moment. So as soon as we have it and it's required of us to give it, we’ll do it. But we don't have it right now."

"Your honor," retorted Satz, "I just don't understand. Throughout the summer?"

Scherer, in the end, sided with the state.

The defense, though, could ask her to reconsider, arguing mental health evaluations are so crucial in a death penalty case, that limiting or rushing their access to experts could result in a conviction or sentence being overturned on appeal due to inadequate representation.

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