Florida high school shooting defendant wants hearings closed

Attorneys worry about potential bias

FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2019, file photo, Parkland school shooting defendant Nikolas Cruz appears at a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cruz is accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Dougla High School. Its been more than 1,000 days since the attack. And yet, with Valentines Day on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, marking the three-year milestone, Cruzs death penalty trial is in limbo. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2019, file photo, Parkland school shooting defendant Nikolas Cruz appears at a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cruz is accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Dougla High School. Its been more than 1,000 days since the attack. And yet, with Valentines Day on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, marking the three-year milestone, Cruzs death penalty trial is in limbo. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool, File) (© South Florida Sun Sentinel 2019)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Attorneys for the man accused of killing 17 people at a Florida high school in 2018 want a judge to close all future hearings to the media and the public to ensure a fair trial.

A motion filed Thursday by lawyers for Nikolas Cruz says news coverage of pretrial hearings could instill bias among prospective jurors in the death penalty case. For example, they say, the hearings could discuss evidence later found inadmissible at Cruz's trial.

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Hearings for Cruz, 22, have drawn extensive news coverage since his arrest in the Valentine's Day 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In addition to the 17 fatal shootings of students and staff, 17 other people were wounded.

“Closure is necessary to prevent a serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice,” wrote Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes and other defense lawyers in a motion.

“Public disclosure of inadmissible evidence is detrimental to the truth-seeking function of a criminal trial,” they added.

The Broward state attorney's office will oppose the defense effort to close the pretrial hearings. spokeswoman Paula McMahon said in an email Friday. She said prosecutors will respond in their own court filing.

The next status hearing is set for Tuesday. Cruz has pleaded not guilty, but his lawyers say he would change his plea to guilty in exchange for a life prison sentence. Prosecutors have rejected that offer.

No trial date has been set.