Jury selection in the case of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz must start over after two weeks of questioning potential jurors, the judge ruled.
Prosecutors had requested the jury selection process be restarted after 11 prospective jurors – who were excused April 5 but asked to return Monday – were not present in court.
“A mistake was made,” said Carolyn McCann, assistant state attorney. She called the situation a “miscommunication” and asked the judge to strike the jury panels, saying it was “better to just start fresh.”
Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer granted the prosecution’s request.
“I’m going to start over,” she said. “As soon as the panel comes up, I’m granting the motion. We’re going to start over.”
The concern was the 11 prospective jurors said they could not follow the law, and Scherer excused them before attorneys for both sides got to question them.
Attorneys representing Cruz were not allotted time to rebut the judge’s decision; it is possible Scherer could reverse her decision after the defense has an opportunity to respond.
The jury selection process for the penalty phase of Cruz’s trial began April 4. The jury now being impaneled will be tasked with deciding whether to recommend the death penalty for Cruz, who already pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Jury selection is further complicated by the fact that proceedings are expected to be especially lengthy. Both sides told Scherer the penalty phase could last four to six months.
Jurors are expected to hear both aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances – reasons why Cruz should or should not be put to death. If the jury unanimously finds at least one aggravating factor exists in this case, it must then be unanimous in recommending the death penalty. Cruz’s sentence would otherwise default to life in prison.
If the jury recommends the death penalty, the judge could choose to follow the recommendation or sentence Cruz to life in prison.