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Jury selected for Parkland school shooter death penalty trial

Cruz Trial.jpeg
Amy Beth Bennett
/
South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill participates in a sidebar discussion via headset during jury selection in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer swore in a group of Broward County residents Wednesday.

These 22 people were selected from a group of 1,800 after almost three months of jury selection. They will will decide if the Parkland school shooter spends the rest of his life in prison or gets the death penalty.

Seven men and five women were chosen for the 12-person jury. 10 alternates will join them. One was absent from the courtroom Wednesday and will be sworn in at a later date.

They 22 jurors will return to court on July 18th for opening statements. The trial is expected to stretch into October.

The hearing Tuesday was the culmination of 13 weeks of jury selection. The three-round process started with 1,800 potential jurors.

By Tuesday, 53 potential jurors entered the Broward County courtroom.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer read them a list of witnesses who may testify and people who will be mentioned during the trial. Lawyers questioned five of those jurors who acknowledged they recognized at least one of the names read.

Lawyers then tried to persuade Scherer that some candidates were biased. Each side also had at least 10 peremptory challenges where they could eliminate candidates for any reason except race or gender.

The jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz, 23, receives the death sentence or life in prison without parole for the murders of 14 students and three staff members at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.

Cruz pleaded guilty in October to those murders and 17 counts of attempted murder, so the jurors will only decide his punishment. They must be unanimous for Cruz to get the death penalty — if at least one votes for life, that will be his sentence.

The jury faces the first mass school shooting case to go to trial.

Other mass shooters died during or immediately after their attacks, killed either by police or themselves. The suspect in the 2019 slaying of 23 at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, is awaiting trial.

These jurors will be exposed to at least four months of testimony and evidence. They will have to see autopsy photographs and tour the school building where the shooting took place. It is almost intact from the day of the shooting.

Prosecutors plan to argue that Cruz's attack was calculated and cruel. His defense lawyers will argue that he suffered mental and emotional issues his entire life.

In addition to the 12 jurors, a group of between eight and 10 alternates is still being chosen.

This story contains reporting from the Associated Press.

Gerard Albert III is back in Broward, where he grew up, after reporting on crime and public safety in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and West Palm Beach. Albert is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University.