Judge: Florida school shooting trial will begin in January

CURT ANDERSON
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2018 file photo, Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz listens during a status check on his case at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. As his death penalty trial draws closer, a hearing is set for school shooting defendant Cruz in the 2018 massacre that killed 17 people. The hearing Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, likely concerns the setting of timelines leading up to the planned January trial of the 21-year-old Cruz. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A judge insists the trial will begin in late January for Florida school shooting defendant Nikolas Cruz in the 2018 massacre that killed 17 people.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said at a hearing Wednesday that she won't delay the trial expected to start Jan. 27 with jury selection.

"This is a huge case. It is not going to drag on for years and years and years," Scherer said. "We are going to trial in January."

Cruz is accused of the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. He faces 17 first-degree murder charges and 17 attempted murder charges.

Defense attorneys for the 21-year-old Cruz said they have many more interviews to do, especially with former students who are now scattered at colleges around the country.

They also said no decision has been made on a possible insanity defense, which prosecutors have been asking about. That would entail a host of mental health experts on both sides and could play a role in the penalty phase of the trial if Cruz is convicted.

"I can assure you we will not be ready for trial on Jan. 27. That is an unrealistic trial date," said Melisa McNeill, attorney for Cruz.

"We haven't made a decision on whether we will be proceeding with an insanity defense," McNeill added.

Cruz has pleaded not guilty, but his lawyers say he would admit to the crimes in exchange for a life prison sentence. Prosecutors insist on pursuing the death penalty.

Scherer said all the lawyers should get everything prepared for a January trial start.

"You all need to do your best. Whatever you have to do, you need to get it ready," the judge said. "This case has been given special priority."

The next status hearing is set for Nov. 18.

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