School shooter’s death penalty trial: Jury pool narrows for more individual interviews

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer reported that about 60 potential jurors without hardship excuses and who had already answered questions about capital punishment were ready to move forward with more interviews starting on the week of June 21st. Scherer needs 18 to 20 jurors — 12 in the jury box and alternates.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – With the Parkland school shooter seating just a few feet away from him in a courtroom in Fort Lauderdale, a man told attorneys Wednesday that he doesn’t think he could be a fair juror.

The man said he had worked as a carpenter at Broward County Public Schools. The job helped to increase security after Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 rifle to shoot 34 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.

The man said he visited dozens of BCPS buildings to help change locks. This allowed teachers and administrators to be able to lock the doors from either the inside or the outside of a classroom in case of a threat.

A woman who faced attorneys’ questions couldn’t contain her emotions.

“I see you tearing up a little bit,” Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill, Cruz’s lead attorney, said in response. “We understand that.”

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer dismissed both of them as she continued to narrow the jury pool. Cruz, who pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October, watched from a desk with his defense team.

Jury selection in the death penalty trial began on April 4. Scherer needs 18 to 20 jurors — 12 in the jury box and alternates. The court has screened hundreds of Broward County residents on jury duty for hardship excuses. The individual interviews about capital punishment continued.

Scherer reported that about 60 potential jurors without hardship excuses and who had already answered questions about capital punishment were ready to move forward with more interviews starting on the week of June 21st.

The process allows attorneys with the defense and the prosecution to gather information on how each team can best use the ten chances they have to dismiss potential jurors.

Attorney David S. Weinstein, a partner at Jones Walker LLP who has been following the case, said the court is in search of jurors who are going to put aside everything they know, listen to what is admitted into the courtroom, and use their common sense.

“What is important to remember here is that all it takes is one vote to swing this verdict one way or the other,” Weinstein said.

For Cruz to be sentenced to the death penalty, all of the 12 jurors must agree. Otherwise, Scherer will have no choice but to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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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.