FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Just as jury selection in the penalty phase of the Parkland school shooting capital case was entering its fourth week about to start phase two, the judge announce that proceedings would be postponed by a week.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer said that she had told jurors who were supposed to report at the Broward County Courthouse Monday that they were to return on May 9.
Assistant public defender Melisa McNeill was absent from the courtroom Monday.
While it has yet to be confirmed, Local 10 News is working to find out if the Public Defender’s office issued the court a notice that a member of their team tested positive for COVID.
On Monday morning, one of the prosecutors, Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus, asked if the court would be in session Tuesday.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer could be heard saying in open court: “Is she going to test today?” before they went into a private session. She then called a recess without explanation. She said all jurors who had showed up Monday for Phase Two, those who had been cleared from the first round, would now be returning on Monday, May 9.
We have asked court administrators and the judge’s judicial assistant to confirm if McNeill is out this week after possibly testing positive for COVID and we are awaiting that confirmation.
But as it stands now, full jury selection resumes next week.
On the schedule for Monday, the court was to hear from the 11 prospective jurors who, on Day 2 of jury selection, were excused after they said they could not “follow the law.” Scherer erroneously dismissed them before attorneys had a chance to question them.
Both sides said it was an error and agreed to a remedy of bringing them back for further questioning.
When they were not summoned back as expected a week ago Monday, the state filed a motion with a new idea. That the court could correct the issue they said by starting fresh. The defense objected calling it premature to strike the first two weeks of jury selection before the original remedy to bring them back played out.
Scherer first sided with prosecutors and then reversed her decision after hearing from the defense on Wednesday.
“At this time, I am going to dismiss the state’s motion as premature,” Scherer said Wednesday. “I am going to bring in the 11 individuals back and ask if they have a hardship and take it from there.”
Of the 10, all but one was excused for hardships. That one happens to be the prospective juror the defense cites as an example of someone who could have been a possible juror for the case if they had the opportunity to question him.
On the day he was excused, he posted on Local 10′s Instagram page. “They called me for this case. I couldn’t do it. Death penalty thing. Sorry, just can’t, nope.”
Rules to not talk or read about the case do not apply to excused jurors.
Now that he is back in the jury pool mix, the judge is asking him to fill out a jury questionnaire and return on a day in May for further questioning and to not talk or read about the case.
“Do not look up anything about this case. Do not post on social media,” Scherer instructed.
This leaves just one prospective juror from that 11, which the Broward Sheriff’s Office is still seeking to serve. They believe he is in the process of moving, but are trying to locate him to deliver the summons.
When he is served and scheduled to arrive, court will resume to hear if he has a hardship.
When attorneys will begin asking more probative questions of the Phase Two jurors about their death penalty views will have to wait until next week.