Jury picked for Parkland shooter’s sentencing

The 12-member jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz gets the death penalty or life imprisonment for the 2018 attack.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A jury of seven men and five women was selected Tuesday for a criminal trial to decide whether Florida school gunman Nikolas Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison for the 2018 attack, which represents an upper limit of almost three months screening process that started with 1,800 candidates.

The jury was selected by prosecutors and defense attorneys from a final panel of 53 candidates. The chosen ones survived three rounds of interviews that began on April 4 and were protracted by numerous delays due to illness and other factors. Eight to ten deputies were selected.

The jury will decide whether Cruz, 23, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole for the February 14, 2018 killing of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Cruz pleaded guilty to those murders and 17 attempted murders in October, leaving the jury only to determine his sentence. They must agree that Cruz gets the death penalty – if at least one votes for life, the sentence will be for Cruz.

The selected judges are two bank executives and two technology workers, a probation officer, a human resources expert and a Walmart warehouse manager. Also included are a librarian, a medical claims adjuster, a paralegal, and two retired insurance and healthcare executives.

Each side had an opportunity to convince Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that a particular candidate was biased. And if she disagreed, each side also had 10 compelling challenges in which she could eliminate contestants for any reason other than race or gender. The defense used seven and the prosecution used four.

The panel will have a task never before faced by a US jury – no American mass shooter who killed at least 17 people has ever made it to trial. Nine others died during or immediately after their shootings, either killed by police or by themselves. The suspect in the 2019 killing of 23 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, is awaiting trial.

In the first phase of the jury selection, the prospective panelists were only asked whether their employment and living conditions would allow them to complete the expected four months of the process. About 80% were eliminated because their employers would not pay them, they are self-employed, or they had school duties or vacations planned.

In the second phase, the remaining 300 panellists were asked their opinions on the death penalty and whether they could be fair to Cruz. Finally, about 85 were asked about their life and work history, whether they could stand seeing gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos, playing violent video games, and believing that white people have advantages in society that are unavailable to ethnic minorities.

The selection process has been turned upside down several times. One day, the sheriff’s deputies guarding the courtroom thought some would-be jurors were about to attack Cruz and dragged him to safety as they quickly removed the threatening panelists. Another day, Scherer had to dismiss a group of potential jurors because one wore a T-shirt that referenced the shooting and supported the victims and survivors. The selection was also delayed by two weeks when lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill contracted COVID-19.

The jury is exposed to graphic evidence, including crime scene and autopsy photos, and tour the three-story classroom where Cruz methodically stalked the hallways, shooting at everyone in front of him and firing into the classrooms. It hasn’t been cleaned since the shooting and remains bloodstained and full of bullets, with Valentine’s Day gifts scattered around.

https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/jury-parkland-shooter-sentencing/507-f5ce5178-e7d8-4699-b6cc-edb985ab30db Jury picked for Parkland shooter’s sentencing

Alley Einstein

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