Florida school shooter’s jury selection to start again

Jury selection in trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz must start over after judge says his own mistake requires it

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The judge overseeing jury selection for a man who murdered 17 people at a Florida high school said the process would resume on Monday, conceding she should have interviewed 11 potential jurors who said they would not wouldn’t follow the law until she fired them.

In granting the motion filed by prosecutors for Nikolas Cruz over the strong objection of his attorneys, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer canceled two weeks of work for the prosecution and defense attorneys, forcing them to start over. whole process on Monday. As a result, nearly 250 potential jurors who had said they could sit for a four-month trial will not be called back next month for further questioning. More than 1,200 candidates had been pre-selected.

Prosecutor Carolyn McCann made her case after miscommunication meant that 11 jurors who were incorrectly fired by Scherer two weeks ago were not told to return to court on Monday as had been scheduled for a additional questioning.

Scherer said they would be brought in next week, but McCann argued that more time would be wasted if it turned out that potential jurors were to be punched anyway. She said the prosecution has as much right to question potential jurors and have a final panel intact as the defense.

“It’s not a trivial mistake,” McCann said.

Melisa McNeill, Cruz’s leading public defender, strongly disagreed with the decision to disbar potential jurors now. She said Scherer would have to wait until next week to see if all 11 jurors returned and could be questioned. She then asked Scherer to postpone his decision until Monday afternoon to give his side more time to research, but Scherer sided with the prosecution. She said she may reconsider whether the defense can make a convincing case on Monday afternoon after completing its research.

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to murdering 17 people and injuring 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018. The 12-member jury that will be selected after a winnowing process in three stages of two months will decide whether he is sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The misstep will almost certainly push opening statements back from their scheduled mid-June date. They had already been delayed from May 31.

The possibility of a mistrial had weighed on jury selection since Scherer made the mistake on April 5 while questioning a group of 60 potential jurors, the fifth of 21 panels who appeared before the judge. , prosecutors and the defense.

With the previous four groups and all groups since, Scherer only asked potential jurors if they knew Cruz or any of the attorneys and if they had any personal or professional difficulties that would prevent them from serving from June through September. With the fifth group, however, she also asked if any of the candidates would break the law if chosen. A few people raised their hands, then a few more until there were soon 11 hands up.

Scherer expressed surprise at the number, but fired them without further question, drawing objection from Cruz’s attorneys in a private box after they left. The defense wanted Scherer to question them further to make sure they actually believed and understood what they were saying and weren’t just trying to avoid jury service. Florida jury candidates who say they cannot serve are almost always questioned, regardless of the reasons they give.

Scherer, realizing his mistake, tried to have the jurors return, but all but one had left the courthouse. She said the Broward County Sheriff’s Office issued them summonses, but it was not done for unexplained reasons. Even if all of them had returned, they still could have been disqualified because they had not received the order that Scherer gave other potential jurors not to discuss or read about the case.

“I will never make that mistake again,” Scherer told lawyers the day after his mistake.

Given Cruz’s notoriety and the hatred many in the community have for him, finding jurors who can be fair promises to be an excruciatingly long process. Jurors who pass the first stage by saying they can serve four months fill out questionnaires about their backgrounds and beliefs about the death penalty. These are given to both parties. Prospects will be brought back in several weeks for further questioning, including whether they may be fair to Cruz.

Selected jurors will decide whether aggravating factors — the multiple deaths, the planning Cruz put into the murders, and the cruelty with which they were committed — outweigh mitigating factors such as the defendant’s mental and emotional issues. throughout his life, the possible sexual abuse and death of his parents.

For Cruz to be executed, the jury must vote unanimously for death. If one or more votes against, he will be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

ABC News

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