Portraits of the Douglas school shooting victims
The confessed Parkland high school shooter has been to practically every status hearing so far leading up to his murder trial. After Wednesday, he won’t have to go as much anymore.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled to allow 20-year-old Nikolas Cruz to not be present at upcoming status hearings, where attorneys typically hash out legal squabbles and keep the court up-to-date. Cruz will have to go to substantive hearings on a case-by-case basis.
The shooter faces the death penalty after killing 17 students and staff members and injuring 17 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. It was Florida’s worst school shooting.
Defense attorneys first asked the court to have their client’s appearance waived in April “to not further traumatize this community,” according to court records, citing the widespread media attention on the case.
“Every time Mr. Cruz appears in court, he enters the living rooms of the people most effected by the tragedy, and the trauma continues,” the document said.
Scherer asked the defendant to stand and answer questions to make sure he understood the ruling and that his attorneys would have to fill him in on details of status hearings. He said he understood.
Then came time to discuss the case’s schedule. The trial is tentatively set to begin January 2020. While prosecutors said they would be ready, defense attorneys David Frankel and Melisa McNeill said it would be difficult for them to reach that goal. There are 323 witnesses who still have to be deposed, McNeill said.
“We certainly don’t want to create an unrealistic expectation for this community,” McNeill said to the judge.
Scherer responded that it is too early for the defense to say they would not be ready for a January trial date.
“This case needs to move, and I’m not going to change it today,” Scherer said.