The judge overseeing the case of Parkland School shooting defendant Nikolas Cruz has agreed to delay the planned late January start of his trial in the February 2018 massacre that killed 17 people.
A hearing was held Thursday to consider the arguments by defense lawyers that the case was moving far too rapidly. They claimed legal errors could occur that would result in a reversal on appeal and trigger yet another high-profile trial.
Prosecutors had been pushing to have the trial begin with jury selection beginning Jan. 27. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer had insisted on keeping that date for probably the biggest trial in the county’s history, but on Thursday said she would delay the start.
Schere said she now wants the trial to begin in summer 2020.
In a court filing Wednesday, prosecutors “in an abundance of caution” said they would not object if the trial starts a few months later, in May.
Cruz, 21, faces 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He faces the death penalty if convicted, although his lawyers say he will plead guilty in return for a life prison sentence.
In their motion, defense lawyers noted that of 38 capital punishment cases in Broward County since 1994, the average time they remained pending between arrest and trial was 52 months, or a little over four years.
On the current schedule, Cruz’s trial would begin less than two years after the mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. He was arrested that same day. Defense lawyers said that is far too fast for them to adequately prepare a defense in a case of such magnitude.
The defense motion also points out there are at least 1,000 witnesses identified by prosecutors in the case, and each of them must be interviewed by Cruz’s lawyers. There are about 4 million pages of evidence, thousands of photos, videos, and social media posts and much more.
The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for March 23.