The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday granted a death row inmate’s request to disqualify a Broward County circuit judge from his case because of actions after Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was sentenced to life in prison last year.
The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that Judge Elizabeth Scherer should be disqualified from the case of death row inmate Randy W. Tundidor.
The request came after Scherer on Nov. 2 sentenced Cruz to life in prison in the 2018 murders of 17 students and faculty members at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Scherer could not sentence Cruz to death because a jury did not unanimously recommend the death penalty.
Thursday’s Supreme Court opinion said that after issuing the life sentence to Cruz, Scherer left the bench in her judicial robe and hugged family members of victims and members of the prosecution team, including Assistant State Attorney Steven Klinger, who also was working on Tundidor’s case.
Two days later, during an off-the-record conversation at a status hearing in Tundidor’s case, Scherer asked Klinger how he was doing. Tundidor alleged that Scherer and Klinger were “commiserating over their shared disappointment at the outcome” of the Cruz case, the Supreme Court opinion said.
Scherer turned down Tundidor’s motion for disqualification, leading the inmate’s lawyers to go to the Supreme Court.
“We conclude that the combination of certain circumstances contained in the allegations in Tundidor’s motion regarding the actions of Judge Scherer in the Cruz case on November 2, 2022, and in Tundidor’s case on November 4, 2022, which he alleged showed a sympathy with the state that was linked to the outcome of another capital case, would create in a reasonably prudent person a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial proceeding,” the Supreme Court opinion said.
“The crucial facts that together were sufficient to create such a well-founded fear are the hugging of ASA [Assistant State Attorney] Klinger by Judge Scherer — in the courtroom while still wearing a robe — at the conclusion of the Cruz murder case, and the personal exchange between Judge Scherer and ASA Klinger two days later, during Tundidor’s post-conviction proceedings, in which the judge commiserated with Klinger.”
Tundidor was sentenced to death for breaking into the Plantation home of Joseph and Linda Morrissey in April 2010 and brutally stabbing to death Joseph Morrissey, a Nova Southeastern University professor. Tundidor and his son, Randy H. Tundidor, bound the Morrisseys by their hands and feet and set their house on fire, leaving Linda Morrissey and the couple’s son, Patrick — who was 5 years old — behind to die. Linda and Patrick Morrissey escaped and survived.
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Randy W. Tundidor was convicted and sentenced to death in 2012. He filed a motion in 2019 to vacate the conviction and death sentence, and Scherer was assigned to handle the case.