FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida. – The Parkland school shooter’s defense warned the judge and the prosecution on Thursday that they had reason to end the death penalty phase of the trial.
Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill accused a prosecutor in open court of participating in a conference call with a witness she says is to be investigated for witness tampering and misconduct.
McNeill said John Vesey, the former principal of Westglades Middle School, received a call from his “personal friend,” attorney Christopher Whitelock, who represents several Broward County public school employees, and presented the appeal to Assistant District Attorney Jeff Marcus.
“It was an incredibly uncomfortable phone call. At this hour, I don’t even understand why it happened,” Vensey said later during his testimony Thursday afternoon.
McNeill told Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that the defense must file a motion to “disqualify or bar the imposition” of the death penalty or for the state to seek the death penalty on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct.
Whitelock and Marcus “had concerns about his testimony today and how it might impact the district and how it might impact the people who work for the district,” McNeill said, adding that Vensey told the defense that he felt like he was “trying to prohibit him from testifying.”
McNeill said the defense should also prepare to seek relief and find an outside prosecutor’s office to investigate whether other defense witnesses have received similar calls. When Scherer told McNeill she wanted to continue with the testimony and deal with the matter later, McNeill appeared furious.
“I am sorry. I assume you would be outraged by this conduct as is the defense and we just need an opportunity to review all the information,” McNeill told Scherer.
Marcus calmly admitted to the phone call, but not the nature of it.
“That is absolutely not true. I had a conversation. I called his attorney, asked if I could speak to his client, and we talked about what his testimony would be,” Marcus said. “Mr. Whitelock overheard the conversation. I’m sure Mr. Whitelock would think that was an appropriate conversation. It was simply, ‘What are you going to witness to?’ and a few questions about his lead role.
“That is absolutely false.”
McNeill submitted an affidavit signed by Vesey outlining his view of the appeal.
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. defense shooter school parkland claims alleged misconduct is base ban penalty death