Day 5 of jury selection in Nikolas Cruz’s death penalty case ends with questionnaire dilemma

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to decide if she will release the potential juror's questionnaire to the public.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The search for the 12 jurors who will decide if Nikolas Cruz will be executed or serve life in prison continued on Tuesday in Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer’s courtroom.

Scherer needs 12 jurors and 8 alternates from June to September. The selection began with about 1,500 potential jurors. The dismissals ranged from a “sugar daddy” financial burden to Scherer’s former roller-skating instructor.

A woman said she met Cruz during a group trip in 2016. On Tuesday, there was a freelancer, a pregnant woman who said her delivery is Aug. 15, and a man who said his wife was a recent kidney recipient and he wanted to take her to follow-up appointments.

“I don’t want her to take an Uber; I take care of my wife,” he said.

“And that is 100% OK,” Scherer said.

Scherer said she will announce on Wednesday if she will release to the public the questionnaire that is provided to potential jurors. The jury selection process includes individual interviews after the screening process and challenges from both the prosecution and the defense. Each side gets at least 10 peremptory strikes to eliminate potential jurors.

‘FAIR AND IMPARTIAL’

“I am a lunch lady I work with the School Board, so I don’t think I would be an impartial at all juror,” a potential juror said.

“OK, but as far as scheduling goes I think the School Board pays,” Scherer said and later decided not to dismiss her.

Cruz, 23, sat between two of his defense attorneys. Scherer ordered that he wear civilian clothes and not a jumpsuit during the process. He was steps away from some of the relatives of the victims of the Feb. 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.

Emotions were high on Monday. The case hits too close to home for many of the Broward County residents who responded to jury duty.

“My spirit is so disturbed,” a woman said before Scherer decided to dismiss her and the panel of 60 potential jurors who heard her.

Attorney David Weinstein, who is not involved in the case, said Cruz’s defense may decide to request that the case be moved to a courtroom in another part of the state. He said that under the rules either party can move for a change of venue during jury selection — if they believe the defendant cannot get a fair and impartial trial in Broward County.

“It’s a strategic move and one that could backfire ... The population in a different part of the state could be less favorable,” said Weinstein, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who has been following the case closely.

Last year, Cruz pled guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. As Scherer moves ahead with the penalty phase, she expects the jurors to be ready for testimony by May 31st.

For the sentencing, the 12 jurors must unanimously agree to the death penalty. If any of them disagree, Scherer has to sentence Cruz to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

6 p.m. report: Legal analysis of the jury selection process

Attorney David Weinstein said Nikolas Cruz's defense could end up requesting to have the case moved to a courtroom in another part of the state.

12 p.m. report: Review of start of day 5 of jury selection

Jury selection continues in Nikolas Cruz's case for 17 murders and 17 attempted murders on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Coverage of jury selection: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

Local10.com archives

TWISF on Sunday: Retired prosecutor comments on the jury selection process

With the Parkland school shooter’s case in mind, a former prosecutor with experience in death penalty cases said the perfect juror is someone who is willing to listen, think — and follow the law and “not necessarily their heart.”

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About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.