Judge Who Hugged Parkland Prosecutor Disqualified From Case

Death row inmate argued Elizabeth Scherer showed unfair sympathy to prosecutors
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 14, 2023 7:33 AM CDT
Judge Who Hugged Parkland Prosecutor Disqualified From Case
Judge Elizabeth Scherer hugs Jennifer Guttenberg following the sentencing hearing for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Nov. 2, 2022. Guttenberg's daughter, Jaime, was killed in the 2018 shooting.   (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)

The Florida judge who sentenced school shooter Nikolas Cruz to 34 life terms last year after a jury couldn't reach a unanimous decision on the death penalty has been disqualified from another death penalty case. The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Judge Elizabeth Scherer had shown unfair sympathy to prosecutors in the Cruz case, the AP reports. After sentencing Cruz, Scherer left the bench in her judicial robe and hugged prosecutors and relatives of Cruz's victims, reports CBS. One of the prosecutors she hugged was Assistant State Attorney Steven Klinger, who was also handling the case of Randy Tundidor, a death row inmate who is appealing his conviction and sentence.

Tundidor, who was found guilty in 2012 of the 2010 murder of his landlord, asked for Scherer to be disqualified from his case. According to the Florida Supreme Court's unanimous opinion, Scherer asked Klinger how he was doing at a hearing in Tundidor's case two days after the Cruz sentencing, which Tundidor viewed as "commiserating over their shared disappointment at the outcome." The court said Scherer's actions "would create in a reasonably prudent person a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial proceeding," per CBS. She has been removed from overseeing any post-conviction proceedings for Tundidor.

When sentencing Cruz, Scherer had no option but to sentence him to life without the possibility of parole for 17 murders and 17 attempted murders because the jury voted 9-3 in favor of the death penalty and Florida law requires unanimity. But that could change soon: The state legislature passed a bill Thursday that will allow the death penalty when at least 8 out of 12 jurors support it, the AP reports. (More Florida stories.)

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