PARKLAND, Fla. – Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Monday denied the Broward County Public Defender’s Office’s request to delay the battery trial of confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz until the lead attorney on his case recuperates from an illness.
Scherer, however, said she was willing to delay jury selection, which was supposed to begin Monday, until Tuesday, to give Broward County Public Defender Gordan Weekes time to select another attorney to replace David Wheeler.
Weekes said Wheeler had an “extreme medical issue” last week and is now recuperating.
The judge said she was sympathetic to Wheeler, but was also not inclined to delay the trial indefinitely as it could possibly take Wheeler months to recuperate.
She said, however, that she was willing to delay the trial, which was scheduled to begin Oct. 11 until Oct. 18, giving the new attorney an additional week to get up to speed on the case, saying Cruz’s public defenders on the Parkland case are highly experienced attorneys who have extensive knowledge on his battery case, as well, and also informed her that they would be listening in and participating on the jury selection process for the battery case.
Weekes argued that the two cases might overlap in some aspects, but were still two separate cases and that not waiting for Wheeler to return would place Cruz in “potential legal jeopardy.”
Scherer ultimately gave Weekes the option to continue as planned Monday with jury selection or delay the process by a day. Weekes agreed to delay jury selection and start the trial on Oct. 18.
According to the Broward State Attorney’s Office, that’s when final jury selection will take place, with testimony possibly beginning the following day, Oct. 19.
The battery case stems from a scuffle between Cruz and a jail guard back in November 2018, nine months after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
On Sunday, the assistant public defender filed a motion to postpone the trial because, “Late in the evening of September 30, lead defense counsel in the case suffered a serious medical emergency and was in the intensive care unit at a local hospital.”
The document states that last week, the defense team requested the trial be delayed, but the court refused, arguing that another lawyer can step in as a substitute.
The assistant public defender again requested a postponement on the grounds that it could take weeks for another attorney to get up to speed on the case and that if the defense makes any mistakes at trial, it could make it more likely that Cruz will get the death penalty for the school massacre.
Defense attorney and former prosecutor David Bogenschutz, who is not involved in the case, explained to Local 10 News that a conviction in the battery trial could be used as an “aggravating factor” in the potential penalty phase of Cruz’s upcoming trial for the Parkland school massacre in which he could face the death penalty if convicted.
“The lead attorney in the case is the engine that drives it,” Bogenschutz said. “If the lead attorney is out, in some circumstances maybe back-ups could handle (it). This one has more problematic issues because the lead attorney in this case is fighting against an aggravating factor that is later going to be used in another case that could cost Nikolas Cruz his life.”
On Valentine ‘s Day of 2018, Cruz fatally shot 17 people and shot and injured 17 others at the Parkland high school.
Cruz’s lawyers say he’s willing to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison.