Judge postpones penalty trial for Parkland school shooter

Defense asks judge to hide jurors’ identities

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer postponed the penalty trial for the Parkland school shooter until April.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer postponed the penalty trial for the Parkland school shooter until April.

Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty in October to the 17 murders and 17 attempted murders of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“All of us are working full time on one case; It is more than full time that we are working on this case, and I think for that limited purpose the defense would probably let me speak for them, we are all working very hard on it,” Assistant state attorney Jeff Marcus said in court on Wednesday.

Scherer decided jury selection would no longer be on Feb. 21. She considered postponing it until March 14, but the prosecution requested a continuance. The defense also supported it. Scherer agreed to a status hearing with the goal of starting jury selection during the first week of April.

The news of yet another delay was painful for Debbie Hixon. Cruz, now 23, was 19 years old when he walked into his former school armed with a loaded rifle and killed Hixon’s husband on Valentine’s Day 2018. It’s a tragedy that prompted her to serve as a Broward County School Board member.

“It’s frustrating because it’s like we are always in that state of readiness ... We are writing impact statements, so you are really fleshing out a lot of how you feel, how you miss them, how it has impacted you ... We just want it to end so that we can move forward,” the widow of the slain Marjory Stoneman Douglas High’s athletic director and wrestling coach, Chris Hixon, said through tears.

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer postponed the penalty trial for the Parkland school shooter until April.

Juror’s identities

In a pre-trial motion, Cruz’s defense team asked Scherer on Wednesday to protect the identities of the jurors by referring to them by number and not their legal names.

“This is going to be a spectacle,” Assistant public defender Tamara Curtis said, adding that “the publicity requires and dictates that the jurors be protected ... there is no reason the state would be opposing this motion unless to feel the pressure of the community deciding this verdict.”

Prosecutors disagreed and told Scherer that the defense’s request lacks merit.

“We are not trying to make a spectacle. You can’t come in here and ask for something without standards,” Assistant state attorney Nicole Chiappone said in court. “They say they have been threatened? Prove it!”

The defense told Scherer they can show the evidence during a private meeting in closed chambers. The prosecution wants it to be done in open court.

Attorney Dana McElroy is representing several media outlets, including the Miami Herald and the Florida Press Association, standing in opposition to the defense’s request and the proposed secret hearing.

The next pre-trial hearing is on Monday and the next status hearing is on March 14. Cruz faces life in prison or a death sentence, which will require all 12 jurors to agree.

J. David Bogenschutz, a Fort Lauderdale-based criminal defense attorney, has been following the case closely even though he is not involved. He said Scherer really didn’t have a choice on the timing. If an appellant is able to show a reversible error, the appellate court can reverse or vacate the judgment of a lower court.

“So they don’t have to deal with this in appellate court if they say, ‘We weren’t ready. We told them we weren’t ready and she destroyed our ability to get prepared,’” Bogenschutz said about what he thinks likely would happen if Scherer wasn’t flexible with the timing.

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