Jury selection begins in Parkland school shooter trial
The penalty trial for confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz began Monday as a Broward County judge started the process of picking jurors who will decide if he will be executed.
Lawyers expect it will take at least two months to seat a 12-person jury because the case is so well known.
This is the deadliest U.S. mass shooting ever to go to trial.
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Judge Elizabeth Scherer told potential jurors the defendant’s guilt was not in question. All they needed to do was pick his punishment.
“The only issue that will be before you if you are selected to serve on the jury in this case is the appropriate sentence for each of the 17 counts. The punishment is either life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or death,” Scherer said.
The 23-year-old pleaded guilty in October to the murders of 17 people and attempted murders of 17 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
Cruz appeared in court in a green sweater instead of his usual bright orange jail jumpsuit. He spoke only to waive his right to participate directly in the screening process.
Scherer dismissed more than half of the potential jurors in the first group because of scheduling conflicts.
Jurors were not yet asked their opinion of the case or of the death penalty. When prospective jurors are brought back in a few weeks, they will be asked whether they can judge the case fairly. They also will be asked if they can vote for the death penalty if the evidence supports that verdict, but don’t believe it should be mandatory for murder. Those who can’t will be dismissed.
When the prospective jurors who pass the initial screening return for individual questioning, both prosecutors and the defense can challenge them for cause. Scherer will eliminate candidates who lawyers from either side have convinced her would be prejudiced against their side. Each side will also get at least 10 peremptory strikes, where they can eliminate a candidate for any reason except race or gender.
“We’re keeping it very preliminary today because of the fact that many of you will be unable to serve because the length of the trial,” the judge told potential jurors.
The trial is expected to last six months and jurors will see evidence and hear testimony, just like a normal trial. Then they will decide on a sentence.
For Cruz to get the death penalty, the jury must unanimously agree that aggravating factors — such as the number of people he killed, his planning and his cruelty — outweigh mitigating factors such as his lifelong mental illness and the death of his parents.