A family reunites following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Judge orders panel to release interviews in Parkland school shooting

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. —Florida investigators must turn over nearly 200 interviews they did as part of their investigation into the emergency response to last February’s school shooting in Parkland.

Defense lawyers for gunman Nikolas Cruz asked for the records from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission. While the attorneys have all but conceded their client’s guilt, they are legally bound to provide a vigorous defense aimed primarily at sparing his life.

Assistant Public Defenders Melisa McNeill and Diane Cuddihy told Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that the records are necessary to provide a complete picture of what took place Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Cruz, 20, was at the hearing but did not speak. He faces the death penalty if convicted of 17 counts of first-degree murder.

The public safety commission was formed last year after Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to evaluate the emergency response to the shooting. In its initial report, the commission faulted the Broward Sheriff’s Office for inadequate preparation for mass shootings and a lackluster response as Cruz’s rampage unfolded.

An FDLE attorney told Scherer on Wednesday that the commission had conducted 180 interviews. Cruz’s lawyers said they had received four. The rest are in the hands of the Broward State Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors asked Scherer for two weeks to review the material and pass it along to the defense.

Cruz is due back in court Wednesday for a hearing on a related case —last November he was accused of attacking the Broward deputy who supervises him at the main jail. In most criminal cases, defendants are ordered to have no contact with the victims. Defense lawyers want a new deputy to watch over Cruz, but the Sheriff’s Office has indicated that it does not want to reward Cruz for attacking a deputy.

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