ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The death penalty case against Nikolas Cruz in the 2018 massacre at a Florida high school remains in limbo.
At a brief hearing Tuesday, no decisions were made on a trial date amid continuing obstacles because of the coronavirus pandemic. Cruz’s defense lawyers say they have almost no access to him in jail, nor do defense experts they insist must see him to build a case.
“We’re in a worldwide pandemic. It’s just not safe to be doing that right now,” said defense attorney Melisa McNeill in the hearing, held remotely. “All of that, unfortunately, is on hold.”
Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz said his office is ready for trial but added that they must await the filing of various anticipated defense motions. That is one of the issues interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Cruz, 21, is charged with killing 17 people and wounding 17 others during a Valentine’s Day 2018 rampage with an AR-15 rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Cruz’s court-appointed public defenders have repeatedly said in court he would plead guilty in exchange for a life prison sentence. The state attorney’s office has rejected that, contending that a jury should decide his fate.
Just when a trial may begin is anyone’s guess.
As time has gone on, things have changed. Satz, the state attorney, is leaving his post after 44 years. There are new candidates to replace Satz, including Democrat Harold Pryor who, if elected in November, would be the first Black state attorney in Broward County history.
Pryor has not commented directly on the Cruz case but, in general, has said he personally opposes the death penalty. Pryor has the support of the county mayor, Dale V.C. Holness.
His opponent on the Republican side is Gregg Rossman, a veteran former homicide prosector who handled some of Broward County’s biggest murder cases. He is now in private practice.
Broward County is one of the most heavily Democratic places in the country.
Neither have said exactly what they would do with Cruz, as it’s an ongoing case and they are not in office. But either way, there will be a new top prosecutor making decisions after the election.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer set another status hearing for Sept. 8.