The Parkland shooter’s jury search starts again in the middle of a fight

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida – The judge overseeing the jury selection of a man who murdered 17 people at a high school in Florida said the trial will start over Monday after prosecutors and defense attorneys claimed she was wrong when she did not question by 11 potential jurors who said they would not follow the law until she fired them.

In response to the petition filed by Nikolas Cruz’s prosecutors over the strong objection of his lawyers, District Judge Elizabeth Scherer canceled two weeks’ work from prosecutors and defense attorneys, forcing them to begin the entire process again on Monday.

As a result, nearly 250 potential jurors who had said they could sit in a four-month trial will not be called back next month for further questioning on whether they could justify sentencing Cruz, who pleaded guilty in October to having murdered 14 students and three employees. members at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. More than 1,200 graduates had been screened.

The 12-man jury, which will be selected after a two-month winning process, will decide whether Cruz, 23, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. The reboot will push opening statements back from June 14 to June 21. They had already been delayed from 31 May.

Prosecutor Carolyn McCann made her argument after the 11 jurors, who were wrongfully dismissed by Scherer two weeks ago, were not asked to return to court for further questioning Monday – as planned – due to a miscommunication.

Scherer said they would be picked up next week, but McCann claimed more time would be wasted if the potential jurors were to fight anyway. She said the prosecution has as much right to question potential jurors and to an immaculate final panel as the defense.

“Neither side has been able to talk to these jurors. In a major case, the interrogation of jurors is important. It is of utmost importance,” McCann said. “This is not a harmless mistake.”

Melisa McNeill, Cruz’s senior public defender, said Scherer would have to wait until next week to see if the 11 jurors returned and could be questioned.

“We think you’re making more mistakes” by dismissing the potential jurors now, McNeill said.

Scherer sided with the prosecution, but allowed the defense until Wednesday to conduct research in an attempt to change his mind.

Scherer told both sides that even though they believe she made a serious mistake by not questioning the 11 jurors, she disagrees. She said she was only postponing their opinion to get the case further.

Having to start again has been an option since April 5 after Scherer’s interrogation of a group of 60 potential jurors, the fifth of 21 panels was screened before Monday.

With every other group, Scherer only asked if the potential jurors had any difficulties that would make it impossible for them to serve from June to September. With the fifth group, however, she also asked if anyone would not follow the law if they were elected. Eleven hands went up.

Scherer dismissed them without further question and objected to Cruz’s attorneys. They wanted to make sure they were not just trying to avoid jury service. Jury candidates in Florida are always questioned before dismissal.

Scherer tried to get the juries back, but all but one had left the courthouse. She said the Broward County Sheriff’s Office would deliver subpoenas to them, but it was not done for unexplained reasons. Although all returned, they could still have been disqualified because they had not received the order that Scherer gave to other potential jurors not to discuss or read about the case.

“I will never make that mistake again,” Scherer told lawyers the next day.

David Weinstein, a Miami defense attorney and former prosecutor, said Monday that prosecutors are entitled to a certain point. They, the victims and their relatives “all have the right to a fair trial, but that right cannot trump the rights of a criminal accused.”

“What the state seeks to prevent, more than anything else, is a punitive phase that has been tainted at this early stage,” he said. If Cruz receives a death sentence, it could result in it being thrown out on appeal, he said. “From their perspective, the referee can wipe the board clean and start over.”

But the defense, he said, will argue on appeal that by restarting their objection, Cruz is facing double danger and cannot be sentenced to death.

Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, said the prosecution is correct that a restart is necessary. But, he said, the dispute is “yet another mistake by a judge who is in at all.” This is Scherer’s first major case.

The ultimately selected jurors will determine whether aggravating factors – the many deaths, Cruz’s planning and his cruelty – outweigh mitigating factors such as the defendant’s lifelong mental and emotional problems, possible sexual assault and the death of his parents.

In order for Cruz to receive the death penalty, the jury must vote unanimously for that option. If one or more people vote against, he will be sentenced to life without parole.

Given Cruz’s fame and the hatred many in society have for him, finding jurors who can be fair promises an unbearably long process. Juries that can serve four months complete questionnaires about their background and their belief in the death penalty. The answers are given to both sides, and then the prospects are brought back in several weeks for further questioning.

Both sides can then try to “rehabilitate” juries that they think may be beneficial to their side. For example, jurors who are morally opposed to the death penalty will usually be dismissed as unfair to the prosecution, but the defense may ask if they could vote for the death penalty if the law requires it. If the judge is convinced they could, the juries can remain in place.

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