FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – On June 29, the Court swore in the 12 jurors who will be asked to carefully weigh the evidence in the penalty phase of the Nikolas Cruz trial to recommend life in prison without parole or a death sentence.
They are seven men and five women who throughout a three-phase jury selection process that began in April, told the Court they can put any personal beliefs or opinions aside to fairly consider and weigh the evidence.
Their role in this capital case is unique because most mass shooters have never made it to trial -- most shooters have either committed suicide or were killed by police.
Related Link: A Study of Active Shooter Incidents
The 12 members of the main jury are:
- An IT analyst who previously worked in construction. He owns a semi-automatic handgun. His mom is a licensed mental health counselor, and his brother is a police officer. During jury selection, he said mental health counseling is a “helpful” profession. When asked about whether it is appropriate for young persons to play first-person shooter video games like “Call of Duty,” he responded “I don’t personally have kids, so don’t have that say, but it depends on the kid, how mature they are, if they can tell the difference between a game and reality.”
- A former French military officer who has worked in the financial sector for the last 20 years. He came to Florida a little over a year ago from Boston. His spouse also works in finance. He explained that when it came to his service in the French military, “It was the draft over there, so it is not like it is a career, it was mandatory service.” He said he does not own a gun.
- A probation officer that started the academy in 2019. He also told the court he has experience as a paralegal executive assistant at a personal injury firm. He does not own guns.
- A stocking supervisor for Wal-Mart. He said his uncle is a psychologist.
- A Miami-Dade computer technician for 13 years and father of three young children. When asked during jury selection if he thought it was OK for a 12, 13, or 14-year-old child to play the first-person shooter video game “Call of Duty” he said, “The game is more for storyline, it is more like watching a movie, like a military movie. You are controlling that character from their eyes. I don’t see a difference between watching a military movie or playing that game, other than the fact you are controlling the game,” he said.
- A University of Miami claims adjuster who does not own any firearms.
- A woman who has been working as a Broward library worker for the past four years. Previously she worked in purchasing for a municipality. She said when her children were young, she worked part-time jobs and she has worked in church administration. She said she has had a good experience with mental health professionals because, “I have used mental health counseling. They were helpful to me.”
- A woman who is a human resources worker at her current employer for about 6 months told the court she has “been doing what I do for 20 years.” She added that her work in human resources has included performing diversity and inclusion work. She also told the Court she sits on a board of a mental health organization and owns a gun.
- A legal assistant at a single-person law firm. She said she formerly worked in elections and with a state attorney’s office in Central Florida. She is considering one day studying law and becoming an attorney. She does not own firearms but said her stepfather does. Her stepmother was a life coach. When asked about her experience with mental health, she said, “It has been positive. I have gotten some mental health counseling myself.” She told the court during jury selection, “I think we need to take everything into consideration.”
- An immigration officer and former U.S. military. He said he joined the military and served from 2013-2016. “In 2016 got out, took a year off, doing hippie stuff, and then in 2018 joined the federal government and I have been working as an immigration officer since 2018.” He said he is range-qualified when it comes to a question about firearms. “I have done a dozen qualification events but, outside the range, I haven’t used weapons.”
- A man who works in a family-run business, “more specifically we are in the export and distribution business.” This is the second time in his career he has been part of a family business. “I became a business owner at 18 when my dad passed away. He owned a tire shop, several tire shops, in New York City,” he told the court. “That business, unfortunately, went down and I took the time to go to college afterward where I got my music business degree.” He said he worked in the music industry right up to when the pandemic started doing a range of roles including managing a large event. After COVID he started at the family business where he is currently employed.
- A woman who is a senior investigator for compliance for a large medical device firm. Previously she worked in finance and accounting. During jury selection, she mentioned she likes romance movies. When asked whether she would give a police officer’s testimony any greater weight because he or she is a police officer she responded, “No”, but added that she does “have a lot of respect” for police because “my dad was a police chief,” ending her response by stating that, “it depends on the facts.”
The Court also swore in 10 alternates.
The judge has decided to seat the 12 jurors and 10 alternates in the jury box by alphabetical order. She said in this way, they would all pay attention equally because they would not know who among them is a juror or an alternate.
The judge instructed them not to read or talk about the case. She also told them not to visit any of the locations they may learn about during the trial.
Jurors will need to be unanimous if recommending death. That means if just one juror determines the appropriate sentence is life, then Cruz will get life in prison without parole -- the sentence he already has after entering guilty pleas in October.
Legal analyst David Weinstein tells Local 10′s Christina Vazquez it is up to the judge in the case to impose a death sentence if the jury recommends it.
Florida state statutes explain that if the jury recommends life in prison without the possibility of parole, “the court shall impose the recommended sentence,” If the jury recommends a sentence of death, “the court, after considering each aggravating factor found by the jury and all mitigating circumstances, may impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or a sentence of death. The court may consider only an aggravating factor that was unanimously found to exist by the jury.”
On Valentine’s Day in 2018, then 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas staff and students; and hurt another 17.
His guilty pleas to the 17 murders set up the penalty phase that began with jury selection on April 4.
Opening statements are scheduled to begin Monday. The trial is expected to run 4-to-5 months.