FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Jury selection in the trial of Florida school gunman Nikolas Cruz entered its second phase on Monday with attorneys asking potential jurors questions individually, with one candidate comparing him to an interview for “the job hardest part of my life.”
Lawyers asked jurors about their views on the death penalty and the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 14 students and three staff members dead.
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder, so the 12 ultimately selected jurors will decide only whether he is sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Eight alternates will also be selected.
Cruz’s attorney, Casey Secor, in particular, deepened the beliefs of potential jurors with an interrogation that lasted 45 minutes or more, in part due to legal wrangling over some of his questions. It took nearly four hours to interview the first three potential jurors, the first of a group of 400 who said in the previous selection they could sit from mid-June until September, the expected length of the trial. They are expected to come for questioning in the coming weeks.
The prosecution, meanwhile, asked some basic questions and was done — except to repeatedly object when they felt Secor’s questions went overboard by being too specific to the Cruz case. Because of the time it takes to interview potential jurors, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said during Monday’s lunch break that candidates will be interviewed in groups of two or three going forward.
The parties’ opposing strategies became apparent from the first potential juror interviewed, a woman in her mid-40s. While the names of potential jurors are announced in court, The Associated Press does not use them to protect their privacy during the trial.
The woman told lead prosecutor Mike Satz that while she knows about the Stoneman Douglas shooting, she doesn’t know many details. She told him she could follow the law and impose the death penalty if necessary.
Secor, a death penalty expert, asked the woman that if she was the ruler of an island, would she face the death penalty. She said no. When asked why, the woman stopped for several seconds.
“I understand how some acts are just plain inexplicable,” she said. “But I’m just human, right? And I don’t have the power to understand what made someone commit an act. No one has this power except God. … Nothing will bring the victims back. Due to prosecutors’ objections, his interview lasted nearly 90 minutes. She passed the screening and was told to come back for a third and final round of questioning in a few weeks.
Either the prosecution or the defense can ask Scherer to dismiss a juror for cause if they can convince her that the candidate cannot be right on their side. Each side also has 10 peremptory challenges to remove a juror for a reason other than race or gender. Due to the complexity of the case, Scherer indicated that she could give each side more.
To be selected, jurors must agree to set aside their knowledge of the case and base any decision on what is presented at trial. They also have to agree that they could impose the death penalty if they think the evidence requires it, but also don’t think that all killers should be executed.
Under Florida law, the jury will have to decide whether the aggravating factors the prosecution will present — such as the number of victims, Cruz’s planning and the cruelty he exhibited — outweigh mitigating factors such as as his long history of mental and emotional problems, his eventual abuse and the death of his parents. For Cruz to receive a death sentence, the verdict must be unanimous. If even a juror disagrees, they will receive a life sentence without parole.
The second potential juror, a woman in her 20s, said sentencing someone to death “is a big decision that would take a lot of thought.” But she also felt that sentencing a first-degree murderer to death “is the most reasonable position.” . »
“Kind of an eye for an eye,” she said. But when asked by Satz, she said she didn’t think the death penalty should be automatic. She was fired after the defense objected.
The third potential juror, a man in his 60s, said his cousin was recently released from prison after 40 years for killing someone as a teenager. At first, he said he could impose a death sentence if the prosecution made their case. But pressed by Secor, the man indicated that the death penalty might be the appropriate punishment for Cruz.
“It’s way beyond anything any of us had ever thought of. It is not a person and a victim,” he said. “This is mass murder – what else could it be? He then referenced the killing of 10 people on Saturday in Buffalo, New York, allegedly by an 18-year-old, saying, “It seems like a thing that’s happening in our country.” “He was told to come back for further questioning.