Judge Delays Parkland Shooter Trial Until Summer 2020 'At Some Point'
The confessed Parkland shooter was back in a Broward County courtroom Thursday afternoon for his last scheduled hearing of 2019. He wore large glasses and sat with his attorneys in the courtroom.
Nikolas Cruz's trial will not begin in January of 2020 as it was scheduled to. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer postponed the start of the trial until at least the summer of 2020.
"This case is going to be tried in the summer at some point," Scherer said.
She did not set a specific new trial date at the Thursday hearing, though she did set a new hearing date for March 23, 2020.
Originally, jury selection was supposed to begin on January 27. Before that, Scherer said at previous hearings she had hoped to begin the trial this past September.
Cruz's team of defense attorneys filed a 46-page motion last week, arguing that the trial was coming up too quickly for a capital case. They asked that the trial be delayed for several reasons, citing media attention and political motivations.
"The defense will not be in a position to adequately challenge the state’s evidence or effectively present its case on January 27, 2020," the defense's motion read in part. "Mr. Cruz has a constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel during both phases of his trial.”
Cruz faces 17 charges of first-degree murder and 17 charges of attempted murder for the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, on Feb. 14, 2018. His defense team has maintained that he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, and the death penalty were taken off the table.
"Any capital case... they are all complex, and this case even more so based on the media attention and the impact on the community," defense attorney Tamara Curtis told the courtroom Thursday.
The state prosecutors objected.
"Yes it is voluminous, but it is not complex," attorney Nicole Chiappone said.
Scherer is also waiting on the Florida Supreme Court before beginning the trial. As previously reported, the court is being asked to consider whether or not Cruz's defense team can shield the identities of mental health expert witnesses from the public record.
The State Attorney's Office prosecuting the case objected to the defense's arguments to delay the trial, including that the case was moving quickly because of political motivations. Scherer is up for reelection in 2020, and longtime Broward State Attorney, Mike Satz, is stepping down.
“Such an accusation is unfounded and is without record support,” the state's response reads in part. “The defense has no basis to advance a thoughtless argument.”
The state's response conceded that they were willing to push it back a few months:
“While there is no legal basis for granting the defense’s Motion for Continuance, in an abundance of caution, the State has no objection to beginning this trial in May of 2020,” the state’s response read.
In the courtroom, lead attorney on Cruz's defense team, Melisa McNeill said she thinks May is still too soon.
"We're doing everything we can," McNeill said, " We would like to have this case resolved by the end of next year."
She told the courtroom the defense doesn't want the trial going into 2021, "unless it has to."