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Impact of Texas school shooting debated by Parkland prosecutors, defense during jury selection

Attorneys should avoid specific questions related to Texas shooting, judge rules
Judge Elizabeth Scherer during Nikolas Cruz jury selection May 25, 2022
Posted at 1:48 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 17:45:36-04

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The sentencing trial for the Parkland gunman began Wednesday with attorney arguments concerning Tuesday's mass shooting at a school in Texas that claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers.

The lead defense attorney, Melisa McNeill, argued that the recent shooting in Texas could interfere with the jury's ability to remain fair and impartial during the penalty phase.

"We lost 19 children and two teachers," McNeill said referring to Tuesday's shooting. "We have to somehow find a way to address this. There's no way that these jurors have not been impacted."

However, prosecutors said there was already an agreement about the questions they could ask potential jurors regarding their ability to remain unbiased in a case that involves children of gun violence.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Parkland shooting

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill during Nikolas Cruz jury selection, May 25, 2022
Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill makes an argument about including prospective juror questioning specific to Tuesday’s school shooting in Uvalde, Tx, prior to the start of the day’s jury selection in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer decided that general questions could be asked related to school shootings if attorneys avoid specific questions related to the Texas shooting.

Tom Hoyer, who lost his son, Luke, in the Parkland shooting, attended Wednesday's hearing and offered his thoughts on the tragedy in Texas.

"I'm in physical pain for what they're going through," Hoyer said. "There are no words. … I'm so sorry it happened to them."

Tom Hoyer, lost son in Parkland shooting, discusses Texas shooting, May 25, 2022
Tom Hoyer discusses the heartbreak of another mass shooting at a U.S. school.

He reflected on knowing that the families of the victims in Texas face an insurmountable pain, which he continues to endure four years later.

"I know what the families are going through. I know what the families had to endure sitting in a room waiting to hear when their child's laying in a school on the floor," Hoyer said. "It's heartbreaking, just heartbreaking."

The second phase of jury selection continued Wednesday morning as a group of about a dozen prospective jurors were questioned about their opinion of the death penalty.

Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann during jury selection in Nikolas Cruz sentencing May 25, 2022
Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann objects to the defense's request to include prospective juror questioning specific to Tuesday’s school shooting in Uvalde, Tx, prior to the start of the day’s jury selection in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.

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The jury will decide if Nikolas Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

Cruz pleaded guilty last year to the 17 murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

Testimony is scheduled to start June 27 and possibly last through the end of October.