FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) — The Florida judge handling capital murder charges against the Parkland high school shooting suspect on Thursday refused to remove a prosecutor from the case for calling the suspect “evil” and “worse than Ted Bundy” during a plea deal discussion.
Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer rejected a bid by accused mass murderer Nikolas Cruz to remove State Attorney Michael Satz and his staff from the case involving the Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Cruz, a former student who had been expelled from the school, is facing the death penalty on charges that he killed 17 people with an assault rifle in a carefully planned attack. Police video of the then 19-year-old man in custody after the shooting shows him confessing.
The public defender’s office has spent the past month trying to persuade the judge that the prosecutor Satz harbors personal animus toward the suspect and refused to consider mitigating evidence that might sway Satz from seeking the death penalty.
In a February meeting that involved discussions about a potential plea deal, Satz allegedly characterized Cruz as a monster more heinous than serial killer Ted Bundy. According to the public defender’s office, the prosecutor was hellbent on putting the defendant to death and violated his due process rights by making a blanket refusal to revisit the decision to seek capital punishment.
Judge Scherer rejected that argument Thursday, saying that “no impermissible motives were demonstrated” in Satz’s decision on the death penalty. The judge pointed out that the prosecutor’s office reviewed the defendant’s mental health records, witness statements and other evidence before the plea deal meeting.
The judge found no merit in public defenders’ attempts to frame Satz as the inverse of Aramis Ayala, a state attorney who had death penalty cases removed from her district by a Florida governor because she refused to seek capital punishment under any circumstances.
“The Florida Supreme Court found that [Ayala’s] decision was not an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, since by adopting a blanket policy for all eligible cases, such action amounted to the exercise of no discretion at all,” Scherer wrote.
Scherer said that Satz, by contrast, is “undoubtedly basing his decision on the specific facts of the case.”
The Thursday ruling also struck down the defendant’s claim that Satz should be disqualified because he circumvented Florida public employee retirement rules by bringing former staffers to work on the murder case through a private company.
“If there was any issue regarding this arrangement, it would be a matter to be resolved between the Office of the State Attorney and the Florida agency in charge of the retirement program,” the judge wrote.
Satz has maintained that the public defender’s office was trying to kick him off the case in order to get a prosecutor in place who would be more receptive to the defendant’s standing offer to take life imprisonment in lieu of a capital murder trial.
Satz told the court a death sentence was appropriate given “overwhelming evidence of premeditation,” including a cellphone video in which the suspect calmly records himself discussing plans to carry out a school shooting.
“I hate everyone and everything. With the power of my AR[-15] you will all know who I am,” the suspect said in the video before professing his love for a girl named Angie.
“My goal is at least 20 people with an AR-15 and a couple tracer rounds,” he said.