Jury Selected in Death Penalty Trial for Nikolas Cruz

July 7, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

The long and seemingly never-ending search for a jury has finally come to an end. For the past several months, we have covered the process of finding a 12-person jury for the upcoming trial against Nikolas Cruz in the Parkland Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting from 2018.

There has been an ongoing list of issues or complications in the hunt for an unbiased jury. Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer was criticized for procedural issues, a group of 60 people were released after emotional outbursts, and members of the defense team even requested to be withdrawn from the case.

After a painstaking process that took nearly three months, a 12-person jury has been selected for the trial. We will cover the details of the jury members, define a peremptory challenge, and discuss what’s to come for the trial.

What is a Peremptory Challenge?

During the selection process of finding potential jurors, both the defense and prosecution are given a limited number of special jury challenges. A peremptory challenge is when either party can choose to exclude a potential juror without any real reason or explanation. The only exemption is if the opposing party presents an argument that the challenge was used to discriminate against the potential juror on the base of their race, ethnicity, or sex. Peremptory challenges are different from striking (or challenging) for cause. A challenge for cause means that the potential juror is disqualified from the jury panel due to reasons that would prevent them from being impartial. The typical reasons for a challenge for cause include bias, prejudice, or prior knowledge. Unlike a peremptory challenge, a challenge for cause has no limit, but the judge must determine if the juror’s bias impairs their ability to be impartial.  

For the selection process of Cruz’s upcoming trial, the defense and prosecution were given ten peremptory challenges they were eligible to use. The prosecution team only ended up using four, whereas the defense team used all ten of their peremptory challenges. The defense also attempted to use one of their peremptory challenges to eliminate a potential juror who was Black and said he didn’t believe that “white privilege” existed. Judge Scherer shot down the attempt to use the peremptory, agreeing with the prosecution that the defense’s reasoning had a racial bias.

The Jury – Who was Selected?

There are twelve members on the main jury for the upcoming trial for Cruz. There are seven men and five women. The following is a list of the jurors, with their names left out for privacy purposes:

  • A man who works with computers for a municipal government. He said he remembered seeing the original headlines for the case, but that there was not enough data from him. It was also mentioned that he owns a handgun.
  • The vice president of a bank, who was a former officer in the French military. He was quoted as not owning any guns.
  • A probation officer and military veteran. He was not asked whether or not he owned a gun. He claimed he did not have a strong opinion on the death penalty, but understood it was a sensitive topic for many.
  • A supervisor at Walmart, who said his cousin knew Cruz in high school. He assured that he could be fair regarding the death penalty, but “either way it goes, this person should get whatever they have coming to them.” He was not questioned about owning a gun.
  • A second computer technician working for a municipal government. He stated that he owns a handgun and a rifle, and once had a bad experience with a police officer but did not elaborate.
  • A woman working with insurance claims for a major health care provider. She stated she did not own any guns. She claimed she was not opposed to the death penalty, but would see it being a difficult decision.
  • A librarian who does not own any guns. She explained both of her children have past criminal charges but “they were stupid. They outgrew it.” While she admitted that she could vote for the death penalty, it “doesn’t seem to be stopping any murders.”
  • A human resources professional who recently moved to Florida. She works for a group that advocates for individuals with mental illnesses, and owns a handgun.
  • A legal assistant for a personal injury firm in Florida. She said she believes the death penalty can be an appropriate sentence, but should not come as automatic. “We need to look at everything.”
  • A Customs officer who previously served in the military. He said he was qualified to use a large variety of firearms while in the service, but did not say whether he currently owned any guns.
  • A man who works for his family’s business. He claimed to have forgotten a lot of the details regarding the Stoneman Douglas shooting. It was not mentioned if he owns a gun.
  • An investigator working for a private firm. She gave a comment saying that if she ruled her own island, there would not be the death penalty, but could potentially vote for it. It was not mentioned whether or not she owns a gun.

What’s to Come

Opening statements will begin on July 18th, 2022. The seven men and five women who were selected as jurors, along with the ten chosen alternates, will return to the courtroom to decide his fate. Cruz has already plead guilty to murdering 17 people in Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, so the decision will be determine whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison, or if he will receive the death penalty.

In Florida, there must be a unanimous vote from the jury for the defendant to receive the death penalty. Under Florida Statute Section 921.141, the jury must be unanimous in deciding that there was an aggravating factor in the case. If there is, the decision is between life in prison or the death penalty. If there is not a unanimous decision for the defendant to receive the death penalty, then he or she will instead be sentenced to life imprisonment without the option of parole.

The upcoming trial is historic in that it will be the first time a mass shooter who has killed at least 17 people has made it to trial. In other instances with that many victims, the shooter either died during or directly after the attacks—either from getting shot and killed by the police or shooting themselves. However, the recent 2019 shooting from a Texas Walmart had a death toll of 23, and the shooter is also still alive and awaiting trial.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, it is important to reach out to a skilled defense attorney in your area. A skilled Florida criminal defense attorney can lead you through the legal process, help build a strong defense, and fight for your freedom. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing various criminal cases across the state of Florida. We understand the importance of strategizing a defense and will work tirelessly to ensure your freedom. For a free consultation, call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today.

Written by Karissa Key

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