Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz sports new look in court

Prosecutors want judge to set trial date as anniversary of mass shooting nears

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor, Roy Ramos - Reporter, Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was in court for a status hearing Tuesday, this time wearing glasses and sporting a new haircut.

During the hearing, prosecutors asked Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer to set a trial date.

Assistant state attorney Jeff Marcus said the case is "not that complicated" despite its magnitude and urged a September trial date. He called it a "fairly straightforward case that does not require years and years to prepare for."

However, defense attorney Melisa McNeill said the lengthy preparation is necessary because of the state's insistent on seeking the death penalty.

"But the moment that they filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, it becomes an entirely different case," McNeill said.

McNeill said she understands the community's need for a quick resolution, but she has to protect her client's rights.

"We can resolve it today," she said.

Cruz's attorneys have said he will plead guilty in exchange for a life prison sentence, but prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

"I just want to work through this as efficiently as we can, keeping in mind that there are, obviously, constitutional issues and that the defendant has to have due process, but, you know, and I think to this point that both sides are doing their best," Scherer said.

Scherer said she didn't feel comfortable setting a trial date with outstanding depositions.

"I'm going to ask that you please work together to resolve these issues, and if you can't, file a motion and I'll hear it," she said.

Cruz, 20, has been held without bond since last year's Valentine's Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 14 students and three faculty members dead. He is charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. 

His brother, Zachary Cruz, appeared in the courtroom Tuesday on the same day a federal court ruled that a lawsuit filed by him against the Broward Sheriff's Office could move forward.

Zachary Cruz was arrested for trespassing onto the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the shooting. While he posted his $25 bond, his attorney said he was later held on a $500,000 bond because of his brother's actions.

"Not only did they keep him, but then his conditions became much, much harsher, and it was all because of who his brother is," attorney Mike Donovan said.  

"They put me in a suicide harness for 24 hours," Zachary Cruz said.

The lawsuit is seeking damages, but Zachary Cruz's attorney told Local 10 News the lawsuit is also for the protection of all inmates.

"The jail house has to get its act together. They have to treat inmates with respect," Donovan said. "They have to acknowledge that inmates have constitutional rights."

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