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Defense Seeks Evidence From Parkland School Shooting Commission

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Broward County Sheriff's Office
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Lawyers for Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz sought Tuesday to pry loose evidence for his defense from a state commission that investigated last year's Valentine's Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The commission did dozens of interviews and collected numerous pieces of evidence before releasing its 446-page report earlier this month. Cruz attorney Melisa McNeill said at a hearing Tuesday the defense needs access to that material for his defense.

"We don't know what they have. We just want to know what they have," McNeill told Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer.

Jason Jones, who represents the chairman of the 15-member Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, said most of the key witness statements and transcripts had already been turned over to Broward County prosecutors. Jones said he'd have a list of other evidence to Cruz's defense by Friday.

"We have turned over all recorded and or transcribed statements," Jones said. "All those have been turned over to the state as we promised."

Assistant State Attorney Steven Klinger said prosecutors were still going through about 180 witness statements collected by the commission but would soon turn them over to Cruz's lawyers. Judge Scherer set a Jan. 29 deadline for that to happen.

"We would at least like to have the time to review them and read them," Klinger said. "We haven't even seen most of them."

Those statements become public record once they are turned over to the defense.

The commission's report to the governor and legislative leaders included a long list of recommendations, such as a controversial proposal that teachers who volunteer and undergo training be allowed to carry guns.

The report also details failures in the county school district's security program that members believe allowed Cruz, a former student known to have serious emotional and behavioral problems, to enter campus in Parkland while carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in a bag.

Another hearing is set Wednesday for a defense attempt to prevent further contact between Cruz and a corrections officer he's accused of assaulting in November.

The altercation proves the two can't get along, according to Cruz's lawyers, and they want him supervised by someone else. The Broward Sheriff's Office contends it has the right to decide its own jail policy, not the inmates.

Cruz, 20, could get the death penalty if convicted of killing 17 people and wounding 17 others in the school shooting.