Prosecutors can call the accused killer in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, “murderer” or “school shooter” during his trial but must avoid pejoratives like “animal” and “that thing,” a judge ruled on Friday.
Attorneys for Nikolas Cruz had asked that their client only be referred to by his name or as “the defendant” in trial, but Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the request went too far, as did the lawyers’ request to call the murders “the incident,” “the mass shooting,” or “the tragedy” and not words like “massacre.”
“Some words and terms the Defendant requests not to be used, such as ‘school shooter,’ ‘murderer,’ or ‘killer,’ in and of themselves are not derogatory,” Scherer wrote in her ruling, according to News4Jax. “They are normal words that may be used to describe particular facts.”
“Massacre,” too, is a legitimate word and can be used, she said.
Cruz, now 22, has pleaded not guilty to killing 14 students and three staff members in the February 14, 2018, shooting and wounding another 17 people, as CrimeOnline previously reported. Prosecutors have rejected an offer from the defense for a guilty plea in return for taking the death penalty off the table.
In addition to the 17 who were fatally shot, two other students who survived the shooting but were struggling with PTSD and survivor’s guilt committed suicide.
In her ruling, Scherer cautioned prosecutors to be at their professional best in trial and to warn witnesses to avoid truly derogatory names. She said she would rule in court on any objection from Cruz’s attorneys to words used.
“A trial is not the time for the attorneys to editorialize or give their opinions of a defendant,” she wrote. “The trial attorneys shall present the evidence, and the jury shall make their determinations based on the evidence presented.”
A date has not been set for the trial to begin.
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[Featured image: FILE – Nikolas Cruz in 2019. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)]