FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Monday began the first step in the process to find a jury in the penalty phase of the Nikolas Cruz capital case.
Some family members of the victims arrived in the morning for day one in the process of finding a 12-member, death-qualified jury.
Nearly 3,000 jury summons were sent for week 1 — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week — with the case getting top priority. There will be several phases to the jury selection process.
Broward County Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who is presiding over the proceedings, kept the court in session for six hours on Monday while prospective jurors were queried about their ability to serve.
(Watch all of Day One: The Parkland school shooter’s penalty phase trial below.)
Jurors were queried about the hardship or extreme inconvenience of being involved in a case for four to six months, the amount of time expected that the trial will last.
Legal analyst David Bogenschutz said that hundreds of prospective jurors will, most likely, be excused.
“This could be tough, I think, that the first couple of jurors, maybe the first couple of hundred jurors, are probably going to be excluded immediately,” he said. “The major problem is finding somebody who has the wherewithal and the interest to sit for what amounts to 16 consecutive weeks or more. This is going to be something that is going to take up a great deal of not just their work time and their ability to make a living — it is also going to take up a great deal of family time and personal items at home.”
Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer told potential jurors Monday that she expects the trial to begin on May 31 and to run through the end of September.
On Feb. 14, 2018, the then-19-year-old Cruz arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in an Uber, armed with an AR-15.
He entered the 1200 Building, readied his weapon, and began shooting.
In a matter of minutes, 17 MSD students and staff members were killed and another 17 were injured.
Cruz then discarded his weapon and fled the building.
A troubled former MSD student, Cruz had a social media record showing a propensity for violence and an obsession with firearms.
THE LATEST NEWS ON NIKOLAS CRUZ’S PENALTY PHASE TRIAL CAN BE VIEWED BY CLICKING HERE.
He was arrested shortly after the massacre and confessed to police.
Within four weeks, a grand jury indicted Cruz and prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty.
But it would not be until October of last year when Cruz would plead guilty, setting up the penalty phase where 12 jurors will decide whether to recommend to the judge that he pay for the murders with his life.
Victim family members wept in the courtroom as he pled guilty. Lori Alhadeff, the mother of Alyssa, 14, who was killed in the shooting, told Local 10 News at the time, “This guilty plea was important for us to be able to move forward to the next step.”
Manuel Oliver, who lost his son Joaquin, 17, in the shooting, expressed frustration with the process.
“I think it’s time to speed it up a little bit,” he said. “Every day is a new day that we suffer and we don’t see a final chapter in this.”
The start of the final chapter, which starts with the process of selecting a death-qualified jury, begins just weeks after the community marked the four-year anniversary of one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
With guilt already established in the case, prospective jurors will be asked if they can be fair and impartial when it comes to sentencing.
The 12-member jury will need to be unanimous in order to choose the death penalty.
Interactive graphic: The victims and the crime