The judge overseeing the trial of the man who admitted to killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in 2018 said Thursday she wants the death penalty trial to begin in September.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the circuit’s chief judge told her the courthouse should be open by then and he would allow jury selection to take place in the large, jury assembly room if necessary.
Scherer said she would enter an order next week laying out specific dates for jury selection and pretrial motion deadlines.
The state is requesting that Scherer try another case against the confessed killer, Nikolas Cruz, before his murder trial. He is accused of battery on a correctional officer. If convicted of that felony, the state could use it as another aggravating factor to persuade a jury that Cruz should die for the crimes he committed on February 14, 2018 at the high school.
Get South Florida local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC South Florida newsletters.
As for the murder case, lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill did not object to a September start date, but she did inform the judge much work still needs to be done.
“As you know, for the last year, we have not been able to have any confidential, meaningful attorney-client communications with Mr. Cruz,” she said. “We still don't have a date that we will be able to do that.”
But, she said, the defense has recently been able to get at least one expert to evaluate Cruz and that are now arranging travel of state to interview witnesses that would be used in a death penalty phase to support their argument Cruz deserves life in prison without parole instead of execution.
“Even with the status of the trial starting in September,” Scherer responded, “we have five months. So at pace that you are all working, I know you are all working very hard, that gives plenty of time to accomplish everything we need and if doesn’t we can address it at that time. But I want you all to look toward September as our goal as far as starting jury selection and pretrial motions."