A Broward County judge wants the case against the confessed Parkland school shooter to head to trial in January 2020.
Nikolas Cruz, 20, faces the death penalty if convicted of 17 counts of first-degree murder for the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. He's been charged with another 17 counts of attempted murder.
Amid lingering uncertainty over when the trial would begin for Cruz, Elizabeth Scherer—the circuit judge presiding over the case—said on Thursday she would soon set a definitive trial date. For now, she wants Cruz's defense team and state prosecutors to plan for a trial start in January with pretrial motions beginning in September.
"Pace yourselves," she told both legal teams during a brief routine status hearing with Cruz present. "I just ask that you keep those dates in mind as a goal moving forward."
The announcement marks a delay in the timeline after Scherer announced last July she wanted the trial to start in September 2019. Prosecutors had since asked her to set an exact trial date for this year, saying the community needs closure and that the case is fairly straightforward.
But Scherer has refused, and the defense has said that legal proceedings are more complicated because the state is seeking the death penalty.
Cruz's defense has said he will plead guilty in return for a life sentence, but prosecutors have rejected the offer.
The Broward County Public Defender's Office, which is representing Cruz, and prosecutors are currently interviewing witnesses and sorting through evidence. Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus thanked Scherer on Thursday for announcing the updated timeline.
"It does give us a place to work toward," he said.
Given his past confession, the trial is expected to focus on Cruz's mental and emotional problems. He is facing charges in a separate case for attacking a guard while in jail.
Cruz will be back in court in March for another status hearing.