A Broward judge on Friday ordered state prosecutors not to release any portion of a 12-hour confession by Nikolas Cruz, the teen charged with multiple murders in Florida's worst mass school shooting, until she has reviewed it to decide which portions can be made public.
"Don't release it," Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer declared in a courtroom packed with Broward Sheriff's Office deputies, news media and victims' relatives.
Scherer told prosecutors and defense attorneys that she would review the 200-page transcript of the defendant's statement to a detective, in which he is said to have confessed to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The judge said she would review Cruz's complete confession and compare that to a redacted version by the Broward state attorney's office to determine which portions could be released to the news media and public.
Scherer said she would either make a ruling on the matter or ask both sides to file more briefs before making her final decision. The next status conference in the nationally followed case is June 21. Cruz, 19, is charged with murdering 17 students and staff and attempting to kill 17 others at the Parkland high school in February. He faces a potential death penalty trial.
David Frankel, a lawyer with the Broward County Public Defender's Office, sought a protective order to stop the release of any part of Cruz's videotaped statement to the detective, saying it would violate his constitutional right to a fair jury trial and that it would also traumatize those close to the victims.
State prosecutor Steven Klinger said his office already redacted sensitive portions of Cruz's confession. Klinger cited a 1984 legal opinion by the state attorney general that bars the release of a defendant's actual confession to a crime before trial because it could affect the selection of an impartial jury.
But in Cruz's case, there are other parts of his confession to Broward Sheriff's Office detective John Curcio that could be made public without running afoul of the law, such as statements that reflect the defendant's state of mind before the mass shooting at the Parkland school.
At Friday's hearing, lawyers for the Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel and numerous other news organizations urged Scherer to release parts of the defendant's statement, citing the state's public records laws.
Whatever the judge decides, Broward prosecutors are preparing to seek the death penalty while the public defender's office has already indicated that Cruz is willing to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.
The state attorney's office has already begun releasing some discovery, or evidence shared with the defense, to news organizations and the public.
Last week, Broward prosecutors released cellphone videos made by Cruz before the shooting that seem to indicate he planned the crime with premeditation, a key factor in his first-degree murder case.
Sometime before carrying out the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Cruz recorded three cellphone videos discussing his plan to murder students and staff.
"With the power of my AR-15 you will all know who I am," Cruz said in one video.
Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student who seems to have meticulously planned his attack, expressed anger at his old classmates, saying they thought he was an "idiot and a dumb ass" when in fact it was they who had been "brainwashed by these f***ing political government programs." And he declared his love for a girl he identified only by her first name, saying he hoped to see her "in the afterlife."
The videos, all shorter than 90 seconds, will almost certainly bolster the prosecution's efforts to convict Cruz of first-degree murder, a capital offense: Under Florida law, such charges must be premeditated.
The recordings were released by the state attorney's office in response to a media request for discovery, which is when the state turns over all the potential evidence against a defendant. In Florida, many elements of discovery are considered a public record once they are made available to defense attorneys.
Authorities did not say when exactly the videos were made, although Cruz suggests in one that he would carry out the attack later the same day. His cellphone was confiscated as evidence after the attack.