Jury selection resumes for Parkland school shooter’s penalty phase trial

Monday marks day 4 in the process to find a 12-member death-qualified jury in the penalty phase of confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s capital case.

In one of his five court-issued shirts, an attentive Cruz reviewed a prospective jury seating chart as he listened to the proceedings.

Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer once again told potential jurors Monday that this phase of jury selection is focused on hardships some of them might have with their schedules that would prevent them from serving on the jury as the trial is supposed to take several months.

Some hardships mentioned included a woman who is the sole provider for two young children and another potential juror who is a caregiver for their sister-in-law.

One woman became tearful Monday. When Scherer asked her if everything was OK, the woman told the judge that her 15-year-old son was a victim of gun violence.

The judge then had a bailiff escort the woman from the courtroom.

“In the end, what is going to be important is how many people are going to be able to set aside whatever preconceived notions they have, both about the case and about the death penalty,” said legal analyst and former state and federal prosecutor David Weinstein.

“One of the difficulties that is being faced here by both the prosecution and the defense, and the judge, is getting a large enough pool from which to pick 12 jurors, plus potentially eight alternates in order to even get to the testimony in the penalty phase,” he added.

Scherer told potential jurors during the first three days of week one of the jury pre-selection process that she expects trial testimony to begin on May 31 and to run through the end of September.

Monday: Day 4 of process to find a 12-member death-qualified jury: “In the end, what is going to be important, is how many people are going to be able to set aside whatever preconceived notions they have both about the case and about the death penalty.” –@DavidSWeinstein pic.twitter.com/MF3BRjNl1q

— Christina Boomer Vazquez, M.S. (@CBoomerVazquez) April 10, 2022

The judge indicated the court would be seeking six to eight alternates.

“There will be extensive jury questioning about the prospective jurors about their views on the death penalty – are any of them adamantly opposed, could they, if they believe that the evidence presented at trial and at the penalty phase merits that – could they return, potentially, a death sentence,” NSU law professor Mark Dobson said.

In October of last year, Cruz pleaded guilty to shooting and killing 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School staff members and students on Valentine’s Day in 2018, setting up the penalty phase of the trial.

He also entered guilty pleas to injuring another 17 people.

Those could be used by the state as aggravating factors for the jury to consider in this death penalty case.

The 12 jurors would need to be unanimous in recommending a death sentence.

The defense is expected to present evidence of mitigating circumstances they want jurors to consider when deciding to make a recommendation of life in prison without parole or death, to include witness testimony and evidence related to his background, childhood and history of behavioral issues.

Related stories:

Complete coverage of the Parkland school shooting case

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