Will 2 weeks of jury selection procedure be scrapped in Parkland shooter case? It’s looking that way
With jury trial selection back in the Broward County Courthouse in the case of the state vs. Nikolas Cruz starting up on Monday, Day 7, Week 3, prosecutors are requesting that previous weeks of jury selection be dismissed and that the panels of prospective jurors up to this point are struck.
“There are too many issues at this point,” said prosecutor Carolyn McCann. “It is better to start fresh,” she said.
It could happen. On Monday, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer granted a motion from the prosecution. “We are going to start over,” she said.
At issue are 11 prospective jurors from Week 1 that the judge excused from the case after they said they could not “follow the law” before the defense had a chance to question them.
The procedural issue developed when Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer veered away from the limited scope of phase one on what was supposed to be asking prospective jurors if a possible four-month hearing would create hardships. Instead, she asked prospective jurors if they could “follow the law.”
She summarily dismissed 11 potential jurors who answered “no” when she asked their group of 60 if they could follow the law — a question she hadn’t asked any previous panel. The defense protested that she hadn’t questioned each individually to assure they meant what they said.
She then excused 11 from the case who said they could not “follow the law” before the defense was able to speak to them.
The remedy discussed on April 6 was to bring those 11 back to be questioned, an option legal analysts had said presents its own challenge given there are rules to not talk or read about the case. However, that does not apply to excused jurors.
Over the weekend, the Clerk of Court’s office confirmed to Local 10 News that no new summons for those jurors had been sent.
McCann, representing the state, made the argument that this “rises to the level of reversible error” and that the best move would be to start over, which would mean striking all panels from the first six days.
“Error has been vetted and this is a capital case. What happened on April 5 when there were asked if they could follow the law and then the show of hands, it is reasonable that it had everything to do with the death penalty,” McCann told the court Monday. “It is a minefield,” she said.
“This is not harmless error,” McCann said.
The defense stated that it is preparing arguments that they want the judge to consider after lunch. The judge said her ruling to grant the motion to start over was “without prejudice,” meaning she could revisit the decision. She said might reconsider if the defense can make a persuasive argument Monday afternoon after it finishes its research, the Associated Press reported.
However, if the decision to start over sticks, almost 250 potential jurors who had said they could sit for a four-month trial will not be called back next month for further questioning, according to the Associated Press. More than 1,200 candidates had been screened already.
It will also push the trial back a week from the most recent schedule.
Scherer told Monday’s prospective jury pool: “We anticipate that the trial is going to begin on approximately the week of May 20, I am sorry, the week of June 20, as you will see the courthouse is closed on the 20th so the trial is expected to begin on or about the 21. The reason I say on or about the 21 is because sometimes issues come and things need to be resolved before we begin the trial so it could possibly start later, but the earliest will be June 21st which is a Tuesday.”
It is expected to be a lengthy process of picking the panel that will decide if Cruz is executed or will spend life in prison without parole for killing 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018.
(See the motion to strike and what led up to the prosecution’s request below.)
(This is a developing story. Stay tuned to Local 10 News at noon and Local10.com for updates throughout the day.)