FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—The trial of the suspect in the 2018 Florida high school massacre for fighting a jail guard was delayed on Monday because his lead lawyer on the case has been hospitalized.
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled that jury selection in Nikolas Cruz’s trial on jail battery charges will now begin on Tuesday and testimony will begin Oct. 18, a week later than scheduled. Cruz’s primary public defender, David Wheeler, has been hospitalized since last week with an undisclosed illness and will likely need several weeks to recover, according to court documents and courtroom discussion.
Cruz is charged with attacking a Broward County jail guard, Sgt. Raymond Beltran, in November 2018, nine months after authorities say he killed 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Scherer said Cruz’s other attorney on the battery case, Jaclyn Broudy, is experienced and capable to take over as lead counsel. The delay, she said, will give Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes time to assign someone to assist Broudy and for her to brief that attorney.
Weekes had asked that Scherer delay jury selection for two weeks so a second attorney could be fully briefed, but the judge said this is not a complicated case and would normally be handled by one attorney.
Cruz, 23, faces a possible 15-year sentence if convicted of attempted criminal battery on a law enforcement officer and three lesser charges. Cruz will get either death or life in prison without parole if he is later found guilty of first-degree murder, but this trial still has relevance.
If Cruz is convicted of attacking Beltran, prosecutors can argue that is an aggravating factor when they seek his execution during the penalty phase of his murder trial if convicted. His murder trial remains unscheduled. It has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and arguments over evidence and possible testimony.
By Terry Spencer