A Broward judge has refused to set a trial date for the case against the confessed Parkland school shooter, despite state prosecutors' calls for closure on the case.
Nikolas Cruz, who's facing the death penalty for the school massacre that killed 17 people last Valentine's Day, appeared in court on Tuesday for a routine status hearing. Prosecutors argued the case is fairly straightforward and that Cruz's defense has enough evidence to move forward with a trial.
"We're coming up on the anniversary of this incident. Justice requires that this case be resolved as quickly as possible," Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus said. He called for a trial to be set for September.
But Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she is not ready to agree to the state's request. Cruz's defense team has filed several requests for information from investigations after the shooting, some of which still have not been met.
Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill added there are dozens of witnesses that need to be interviewed. She said she understands the community wants the case resolved. But the legal proceedings are more complicated because the state is seeking the death penalty, she argued.
"There are higher standards of due process" with the death penalty, McNeill said. "We have to do everything that we have to do and depose every witness so that we are effective in our representation to Mr. Cruz."
Cruz, 20, sat at a table looking up at the judge and lawyers throughout the hearing. He donned a red jail suit and thick-rimmed, oversized glasses. His once long, disheveled hair was closely cropped.
He faces 17 counts of first-degree murder and another 17 charges of attempted murder. His defense team has repeatedly said he will plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. But prosecutors have rejected the offer, saying a jury must decide Cruz's fate.
Despite her reluctance to set a trial date, Scherer agreed with prosecutors that the case needs to move as quickly as possible. She set a next status hearing for February.
"I just want to work through this as efficiently as we can," she said.
In a separate case, Cruz is accused of rushing and punching a Broward Sheriff's Office jail guard in November. Scherer said she will hear arguments on Jan. 16 to decide whether the same guard can continue overseeing him.
Defendents in most assault cases are usually ordered to have no contact with the victim. But the Sheriff's Office has said it does not want Cruz's actions to determine who oversees him in jail.
In the audience at the hearing on Tuesday was Cruz's younger brother, Zachary, who has accused the Broward Sheriff's Office of harassment and targeting.
Zachary Cruz was arrested for trespassing while skateboarding at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School days after the shooting. In a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office, he claims he was treated unfairly and required to wear a restraint vest and subjected to sleep deprivation tactics while in jail.
A federal judge has rejected a motion by the Sheriff's Office to dismiss the case, potentially allowing it to proceed to trial.