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Parkland school shooter wanted words like ‘slaughter’ barred from trial. Judge declined

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz sits at the defense table during a status hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz sits at the defense table during a status hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

Sun Sentinel file photo

The judge who will oversee the trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz isn’t going to play word police.

Lawyers for Cruz, the former student accused of murdering 17 people and wounding 17 more in Florida’s deadliest school shooting, this week had asked that the Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer bar lawyers and witnesses from using certain words such as “massacre,” “killer” and “slaughter,” saying they could be “inflammatory” and hamper the defendant’s right to an impartial trial.

Scherer declined, saying many words — such as “school shooter” and “murderer” — are “normal words or terms that may be used to describe particular facts.” Still, in a three-page order sent to prosecutors on Thursday, Scherer said she trusts attorneys in the case will “act professionally” and witnesses will “exhibit appropriate and proper courtroom decorum.”

“While this court cannot create an exhaustive list of all words and terms which should and should not be able to [be] used at trial to describe the facts presented, this court is confident that the parties agree that derogatory words and terms should not be used,” Scherer wrote in her order. “For example, referring to any individual during a trial as an ‘animal’ or ‘that thing’ is wholly inappropriate.”

Cruz, 22, is facing the death penalty for the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018. He’s pleaded not guilty.

The Broward Public Defender’s Office, which represents Cruz, has offered to have him plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison. The State Attorney’s Office has rejected the offer. No trial date has been set.

Defense lawyers are also asking to review testimony given to a statewide grand jury that met in the wake of the shooting to explore what system failures led to the school shooting. Under Florida law, grand jury proceedings are secret and defense lawyers don’t have the right to review testimony before a trial. Prosecutors oppose the move. The judge has yet to rule on the issue.

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Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks to an attorney in August 2018 about Nikolas Cruz’s education record at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. Amy Beth Bennett Sun Sentinel

David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami. A native of San Diego, he graduated from the University of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.

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