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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Rafael Olmeda

Parkland gunman leaves Broward jail for prison

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Parkland gunman is no longer in the custody of the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

Sentenced Wednesday to 34 consecutive life terms, Nikolas Cruz, 24, was taken from his cell at the Broward Main Jail early Friday morning and placed in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail.

Law enforcement sources say he’s not headed to the prison reception center in Miami but is instead on his way north, where he will be processed into the Department of Corrections and learn where he is to serve his sentence.

“Honestly, he didn’t have a terrible life these last four-and-a-half years,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was one of 17 murdered by Cruz at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. “That’s over. ... He is now going to hell on Earth. The only time I will ever think about him again is when I read the inevitable reports that his fellow prisoners have taken care of justice.”

For the families of the victims, the sentencing of Cruz appears to have brought a feeling of unexpected catharsis.

For observers, it brought a host of unexpected questions about boundaries — the expressions of grief from the victims that ventured into pointed criticism of the defense lawyers, the conduct of those lawyers when they believed the world was watching (and when they believed no one was watching), and the judge’s embracing of prosecutors after the case was formally concluded.

Watching Cruz leave the courtroom lifted a burden from the families’ shoulders, Guttenberg said, though he was reluctant to speak on anyone else’s behalf.

“None of our families got what we had expected,” he said. “It’s been a long, grueling, emotional process. He was being walked into his inevitable fate. The reality is, it’s done. It’s over. I never, ever, ever have to think about him, the way he’s being treated, it is over.”

In some ways, however, it’s not. The building where Cruz murdered 17 people and physically wounded 17 more remains intact and sealed off from the public for use next year in the trial of former Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, the school resource officer accused of taking cover instead of taking action to stop the gunman. The jury in his case will have to decide whether he knew or should have known where the shooting was coming from. He has insisted he did not.

That case, on charges of child neglect, is set to pick a jury next May.

For now, some of the participants in the Cruz penalty case are facing their own criticisms for their conduct during the trial. The Florida Bar confirmed it is looking into a complaint against Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis. While the substance of that complaint was not disclosed, Curtis was singled out by family members of the victims for an inappropriate gesture she made before the trial started.

The incident did not take place during a court hearing. Neither the judge nor the victims’ family members were in the room. After the jury was picked, but before opening statements, defense lawyers had objected to the placement of a camera that the media could use to take pictures of the lawyers. They referred to the camera as “The Constitution Violator” for its ability to focus on documents and conversations that should be kept private.

Curtis, seated next to the chuckling defendant, raised her middle finger to the camera while members of the media tested the equipment for lead defense lawyer Melisa McNeill to demonstrate compliance with court orders about what could and could not be photographed in the courtroom.

Observers on the website Reddit watched the live feed, recorded it and posted it to the social media page. It went unreported during the trial, but victims’ family members raised it as an example of unprofessional behavior after the jury returned without a death recommendation, guaranteeing the defendant a life sentence.

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer has been criticized since Wednesday for stepping down from the bench and embracing members of the prosecution team after Cruz was escorted from the courtroom. Scherer is a former prosecutor whose career began in the State Attorney’s Office, then run by lead prosecutor Mike Satz. Co-counsel Jeff Marcus was Satz’s chief lieutenant until the end of 2020, when current State Attorney Harold Pryor was elected.

Satz and Marcus were hired to finish up the Cruz case and are expected to leave the office now that it is over.

But the embraces between the prosecutors and the judge drew ire from court watchers and the defense bar, which saw it as an example of impermissible bias.

The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers fired off a letter Thursday to Broward’s chief administrative judge, Jack Tuter, urging him to take action to ensure that Scherer “is not in a position to prejudice any other criminal cases.”

They criticized Scherer for chastising McNeill and her boss, Public Defender Gordon Weekes, when they complained that the statements from members of victims’ families crossed the line.

Lindsay Chase, president of the Broward Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, sent Tuter a similar letter. “The lawyers were not on trial,” she wrote, “and their actions and advocacy should not have been the subject of any statement regarding punishment or guilt.”

Members of the defense team have received threats since the trial concluded, Chase said Thursday, and their sensitivity in court should have been acknowledged rather than ignored.

After dressing down the defense, physically embracing the prosecution appeared unprofessional and biased, the defense groups wrote.

Tuter did not agree, praising all parties at the trial for their professionalism.


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