TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — From explosive testimony to damning convictions, there were significantly influential court cases that helped produce some of 2022’s biggest stories.
WFLA Now’s JB Biunno will be joined by Clearwater personal injury attorney Peter Tragos, The Lawyer You Know, on Wednesday to look back at the most influential court cases of 2022.
Nikolas Cruz life sentencing
The sentencing of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz garnered national attention earlier this year when he was formally sentenced to life without parole following a barrage of comments delivered by the families of his 17 slain victims.
The family members spent two days berating the convicted mass shooter calling him evil, a coward, a monster, and a subhuman who deserves a painful death.
Cruz, who was shackled in a jail jumpsuit, showed no emotion as Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer sentenced him to 34 consecutive life sentences — one each for the slain victims and the 17 he wounded during the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Fort Lauderdale.
Depp v. Heard libel lawsuit
The trial between “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor, Johnny Depp and his ex-wife and fellow actor, Amber Heard, drew national attention as legal teams for the two sparred in a weeks-long televised proceeding.
Depp had accused Heard of damaging his reputation in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed about sexual violence, though the piece didn’t mention him by name. Heard counterclaimed that Depp had damaged her reputation by calling her a liar.
In June, a jury partially sided with Depp, awarding him more than $10 million in compensatory damages. However, the jury also found that one of Depp’s lawyers had defamed Heard, and awarded the actress $2 million.
Waukesha Christmas parade killer Darrell Brooks sentencing
The man who drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin on Nov. 21, 2021, killing six people and injuring many more was sentenced in November 2022 in a trial that appeared on the front pages of media outlets across the country.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow sentenced 40-year-old Darrell Brooks Jr. on 76 charges, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and 61 counts of reckless endangerment.
During the trial, victims of the attack begged the judge to deliver the toughest sentence possible. Chris Owens, whose mother was among those killed, told Brooks, “All I ask is you rot, and you rot slow.”
According to the Associated Press, each of Brook’s homicide counts carried a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of extended supervision in the community, the state’s current version of parole.
Petito/Schmidt v. Laundrie lawsuit
In March, the parents of Gabby Petito filed a lawsuit against Chris and Roberta Laundrie, alleging they knew their son, Brian, had killed their daughter and left her in Grant Teton National Park as he returned home to Florida.
Judge Hunter W. Carroll heard arguments from attorneys of both families after the Laundries submitted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. However, in June, a circuit court judge denied the Laundrie’s motion, saying the Petito family had a valid claim.
The two families are expected to sit in front of a jury sometime in 2023.
Derek Chauvin sentencing
In July, a federal judge sentenced former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to 21 years in prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights after the ex-cop pinned Floyd to the pavement for more than 9 minutes as he lay dying.
Floyd’s death sparked outrage and protests worldwide in a reckoning over police brutality and racism.
The judge placed blame on Chauvin alone saying he was by far the senior officer present and rebuffed questions from one of the others about whether Floyd should be turned on his side.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.