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Cruz’s sentencing trial, increase in Cuban migrants, and an apartment complex evacuated

Miami Herald

After four years, Nikolas Cruz’s sentencing trial begins, more Cubans have been entering the U.S. through its southern border, and the Bayview 60 apartment complex in North Miami Beach was evacuated after an inspection.

The sentencing trial for Nikolas Cruz began Monday, starting with jury selection. In October 2021, Cruz pleaded guilty to killing 17 people and injuring 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

This trial will decide whether Cruz is imprisoned for life or receives the death penalty.

Because this case is such a high-profile case, jury selection will work differently, said Gerard Albert III, WLRN’s Broward reporter.

It will be done in segments, with the couple dozen jurors selected this week moving on to another round of jury selection next month. They will be asked more specific questions by the lawyers regarding the death penalty.

This process will go on with more groups, with Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer aiming to go through two to three groups of about 40 to 60 potential jurors a day. A dozen or so from each group goes on to the next round.

In the courtroom, it isn’t as dark as the judge thought it would be, he said.

“The scheduling questions come out and people talk about their personal lives and open up … It is lighter than you’d imagine, and I think people might do that on purpose because they also feel a little stressed out,” he said.

Day 2 of jury selection nearly saw a mistrial, as Scherer released 11 jurors who said they would not be able to follow the law. This means that they would not be able to sentence someone to the death penalty.

They were released without further questioning. However, the defense argued that with further questioning they might’ve been able to change their stance. The next day the defense did not motion for a mistrial, which they could’ve.

Scherer is going to try and call those 11 back for questioning in the following weeks.

There are many variables to this case that have heightened the media’s attention. Not only is this case a high-profile one, it is also Scherer’s first capital case. The lead prosecutor, Michael Satz, is also a highly experienced attorney. He spent 44 years serving as Broward County’s State Attorney. He has tried many death penalty cases.

Until the end of May, we will see more jury selections, with Thursdays and Fridays being reserved for more depositions from the lawyers.

Increase in Cuban migrants at the southern border

More Cubans have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border between October and February than they did during the entire previous fiscal year — 47,000 arrivals.

This is the fastest pace since the Mariel boatlift in 1980. But this time instead of thousands taking to the Florida Straits, many are hoping to come to the U.S. overland at the Mexico-U.S. border.

Cubans are making it to the border by going through Nicaragua. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega made it easier for Cubans to visit without a visa. This has made Nicaragua a more convenient stop for Cubans who want to get to the U.S.’s southern border through South America.

There is a theory that the Nicaraguan and Cuban governments are actively working to create an immigration crisis at the U.S. southern border to make it harder on President Biden. WLRN’s Americas Editor Tim Padgett said there is historical backing behind this theory.

“The Cuban government, whether it was today’s regime or the regime that Fidel Castro ran when he was alive and in power, it often used migrant crises like these to sort of get back at the U.S. for some slight or some crisis that was going on in the bi-lateral relationship,” he said.

He cited the 1994 Balsero crisis, when Castro got angry at the U.S. and allowed Cuban citizens to leave the country without hindrance. He said that whether this theory is true or not, you can’t discount it.

Padgett said this situation is also more of a regional reflex, not an intentional effort. Every country going through hard economic times in Latin America has used this mass immigration as a social and political release valve, he said.

When it comes to the difference in handling immigrants at the land border and Cubans at sea, Padgett doesn’t think anyone has come up with a complete answer to this. He believes it has to do with the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“That’s the law from 1966 that allows Cubans, if they’re able to get into the United States, it allows them a fast track toward the U.S. residency and eventually citizenship,” he said. “

When Cubans get interdicted at sea they get sent back. But if they’re able to make it to the U.S. southern border on land, Padgett said that it’s more likely they are able to take advantage of the asylum application system.

Taking advantage of this application system allows them to enter the U.S., and then the stipulations in the Cuban Adjustment Act begin to activate.

Padgett hopes that there isn’t a difference in treatment between Cuban immigrants on sea and land. He believes that making that distinction would reflect poorly on the U.S.’s treatment of any immigrants from anywhere.

Those in the Cuban diaspora want to see certain services and policies put back into effect. Padgett said the biggest concern among the diaspora is how to start getting those legal processes resumed and active again so Cubans can come to the U.S. legally.

North Miami Beach apartment building evacuated

Dozens of people living in Bayview 60, a North Miami Beach apartment building, were moved out of their homes this week. The evacuation was ordered after the building was deemed structurally unsafe by an engineer.

The foundation of the building was found to have shifted, compromising the integrity of the building.

Bayview 60 is a five-story, 50-year old building built in 1972 with 60 apartments.

It is the second building in North Miami Beach in the past year where residents have been ordered to leave because it's dangerous to stay. And these evacuations come after the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside in June.

North Miami Beach City Manager Arthur Storey said the owners of the building stepped up. They gave every renter their security deposits and April rent, and paid for three nights of housing for them.

“Everybody in that building has been introduced to the Homeless Trust, as well as a couple other nonprofits that would offer solutions if they had a hard time finding lodging after those three days,” Sorey said.

The city is not monitoring every individual renter, but they do have a hotline open to assist should they need it.

For now, the building is closed and will remain closed. The city is moving through one floor at a time, moving heavy furniture out. After talking to engineers about the building, Sorey does not see it being salvaged. He believes it will have to be torn down.

“Nobody will live back in the building until someone comes and says this building is safe to live in,” he said. “ I just don’t anticipate that happening.”

State Senator Jason Pizzo represents Surfside and North Miami Beach. He said building safety will not be added to the upcoming special legislative session on redistricting.

He believes that the legislature should focus more on building safety following these situations in Surfside, Crestview and Bayview 60. He pushes for residents and tenants of condos and other buildings to inquire about where they live, and he believes the state is critical in possible building safety reforms.

As a condo owner, and probably the only senator living in a condo according to him, he is frustrated to see such petty partisanship.

“I said very very early shortly after the June 24th partial and then obviously the collapse of Champlain, I didn’t think the governor had any appetite whatsoever to engage in condo reform,” he said. “As you’ve seen over the past few sessions, the governor exerts his influence on my colleagues to pass things that very infrequently have anything to do with saving lives.”

If his colleagues can’t get it done, then he’ll get it done, he said.

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Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.