Life or death: Jury selection in Nikolas Cruz’s penalty phase will be ‘long, arduous’

With the Parkland school shooter’s case in mind, a former prosecutor with experience in death penalty cases said the perfect juror is someone who is willing to listen, think — and follow the law and “not necessarily their heart.”

Last year, Nikolas Cruz pled guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Cruz shot the 34 people with an AR-15 on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, when he was 19 years old.

“I think that this process is going to be long, arduous, difficult and it’s going to take a lot for jurors to dig deep and tell the truth,” Gail Levine, who is not involved in the case, said on Sunday during This Week In South Florida.

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer is presiding over the ongoing jury selection, which began on April 4th. Once there are 12 jurors and 8 alternate jurors, Scherer expects testimony to begin on May 31st.

“I don’t think we ask you to stop being human. We don’t. Many, many times in my experience picking jurors, I have had jurors cry and I have had jurors when they do that dig deep,” said Levine, a retired Miami-Dade County Assistant State Attorney.

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Levine, who graduated from law school in 1984, said in her experience it’s clear that in this case some prospective jurors and jurors will get emotional. Even though the crime has received worldwide attention, she said jurors will be exposed to evidence that they had never heard about before.

“Sometimes jurors cry for either side … They might be crying because they feel sorry for the defendant … people are emotional. This is emotional,” Levine said later adding prosecutors have worked for months to gather evidence that will prove Cruz’s crimes were “heinous, atrocious and cruel.”

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Scherer will instruct the 12 jurors on the law and they will all have to agree on the death penalty for Cruz, 23, to be executed. Otherwise, Scherer will have to sentence Cruz to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Dozens of runners participated in a tribute to Scott Biegel, a teacher who was killed during the Feb. 14, 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Related social media

Local 10 News Reporter Christina Vazquez is covering jury selection from the Broward County courtroom in Fort Lauderdale.

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

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

Watch the TWISF episode

This Week In South Florida includes discussions about the Miami mayor’s focus, the new Supreme Court justice that is making Miami proud and the Parkland school shooter’s penalty phase trial.

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TWISF was filmed at the Local 10 News studios in Pembroke Park. Torres contributed to this story from Miami.

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