Attorneys for Nikolas Cruz seek more preparation time in upcoming murder trial

Motion to continue cites judge’s re-election campaign among ‘disturbing factors’ behind January 2020 start date

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz sits in a Broward County courtroom during a hearing, Dec. 9, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (WPLG)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Attorneys for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz are asking a Broward County judge to delay his upcoming murder trial.

A motion filed Monday seeks to continue the trial, scheduled to begin next month, until a later date to give defense attorneys more time to prepare.

Cruz is set to go to trial Jan. 27, less than two years after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed the lives of 17 people.

According to the motion, the scheduled start date is only 20 months after the state produced its initial discovery in the case.

"This period of preparation time is significantly shorter than even the 'typical capital felony case' and shorter than the period of time allowed for preparation of several 'typical' non-capital felony cases in this court's division," Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein wrote in the motion.

The motion claims that, if the trial begins as scheduled, "the 20-month period defense counsel will have had to prepare the case for trial is less than half the median preparation time that Broward circuit courts have permitted for the preparation of capital cases over the past two decades."

It goes on to say that starting the trial in January "would bring this case to trial faster than 33 of the 38 death penalty cases in Broward County since 1994."

Finkelstein and his attorneys said they have filed 109 motions and taken more than 141 depositions, continually advising the court of their status. They also mention "the difficulties defense counsel has had" obtaining all of the discovery from prosecutors as required, citing 34 motions filed on the matter.

"Ironically, this court has repeatedly praised defense counsel for their assiduous efforts, at the same time ignoring defense counsels' admonitions that despite its unquestionable diligence and breakneck preparation speed, it will not be ready for trial in January 2020," the motion said.

The three "disturbing factors" defense attorneys claim are the reason for the rush to trial is the high-profile media attention surrounding the case, the fact that Judge Elizabeth Scherer is up for re-election in 2020 and that the prosecuting attorney is Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz, who is retiring at the end of his term next year.

"As the court has provided no sound justification for rushing this case to trial in under two years, when it has let others, less complex and less prominent cases linger in the division for many more years, it can only be inferred that one or all of those three factors are motivating this court," the motion said.

Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks to attorneys during a sidebar at a hearing for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, Dec. 9, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (WPLG)

Scherer has been unwavering in her insistence that the trial begin early next year.

“I expect this case to go to trial in January,” she told defense attorneys in October, despite their objections.

Cruz's attorneys said it would be "constitutionally intolerable" to keep any trial schedule "that would allow time for only the state to be prepared."

“Defense counsel are not asking for several years of additional preparation time,” the motion said. Rather, they are asking for a “reasonable time to prepare.”

Cruz briefly appeared in court Monday for a scheduled hearing, but after having a private conversation with attorneys from both sides, Scherer called for recess until Tuesday.