EXPLAINER: Parkland school shooter penalty phase is ‘close to the end’

As the Parkland school shooter’s death penalty phase gets closer to an end, this is the last weekend the jury has to prepare to be isolated and away from their families in a secret location.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As the Parkland school shooter’s death penalty phase gets closer to an end, the jury has been prepared to be isolated and away from their families in a secret location.

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer was working with the Broward Sheriff’s Office after her order to sequester the 12 jurors for the time they need for a verdict.

“I know that we are close to the end,” Scherer told the jury on Thursday.

The prosecution and the defense are preparing to go over the judge’s charge to the jury on Monday and to deliver their closing arguments in front of the jury on Tuesday.

Related video: Judge explains the new schedule to the jury

On Wednesday, jurors will have to arrive at the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale with their luggage. Scherer will have to read the jury instructions and dismiss the 10 alternate jurors.

“The alternates will be excused once the jurors begin deliberating,” Scherer said.

The jury of seven men and five women will then go into deliberation, the process of deciding whether Cruz should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.

The jurors usually select their jury foreperson, a representative, or a manager. If the jury has a question or a request, a juror must write Scherer a note that she will then read in court.

Related video: Judge briefly explains sequestration to the jury

JURY FACES 17 DECISIONS

There are only two possible sentences for each of the 17 murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: Life in prison without the possibility of parole or death.

For the sentence to be life in prison, it would take only one juror to be in disagreement with a death verdict for all of the 17 murders, according to defense attorney J. David Bogenschutz, a legal analyst.

When the jury reaches an agreement on the 17 sentences for each of the Feb. 14, 2018 murders, the foreperson will notify Scherer, Cruz, his defense, and the prosecution in open court.

For Cruz to face the death penalty, the jury must unanimously agree on capital punishment for at least one of the 17 murders, according to attorney Craig Trocino, a University of Miami Law School professor.

“If the jury returns one death verdict and 16 life verdicts he will still face the death penalty on that one verdict,” Trocino said. “Split death/life verdicts do happen on multiple count cases so it is possible here, but the jury has to be unanimous as to that death verdict.”

AFTER THE VERDICT

Nikolas Cruz, center, stands with members of his defense team on Sept. 12, 2022, at the Broward County courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool) (© South Florida Sun Sentinel 2022)

After the jury’s foreperson reads the 17 verdicts, the sentence is up to Scherer, according to attorney David Weinstein, a partner with Jones Walker Waechter in Miami, who has experience as a prosecutor.

“It is important to note that in no circumstance will Mr. Cruz leave prison alive,” Trocino said. “The sentence will either be life without the possibility of parole or execution.”

If Scherer sentences Cruz to death, and he has exhausted all appeals, then Cruz will face execution.

Neither Bogenschutz, Weinstein, nor Trocino is working on the case.

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Here is the order of the 17 counts of first-degree murder:

Count 1: Luke Hoyer

Count 2: Martin Duque

Count 3: Gina Montalto

Count 4: Alex Schachter

Count 5: Alaina Petty

Count 6: Alyssa Alhadeff

Count 7: Nicholas Dworet

Count 8: Helena Ramsay

Count 9: Christopher Hixon

Count 10: Carmen Schentrup

Count 11: Aaron Feis

Count 12: Scott Beigel

Count 13: Meadow Pollack

Count 14: Cara Loughran

Count 15: Joaquin Oliver

Count 16: Jaime Guttenberg

Count 17: Peter Wang


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.