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Possible procedural misstep prompts mistrial questions in Parkland school shooting sentencing

Nikolas Cruz's defense team raises concerns about court procedures
Nikolas Cruz stares into camera on second day of jury selection in penalty phase of murder trial, April 5, 2022
Posted at 6:50 PM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-05 23:41:14-04

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Just two days into the jury selection, defense attorneys for Nikolas Cruz in the Parkland school shooter's sentencing could request that the process start over again.

Eleven prospective jurors who said they could not follow the law were excused by Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer before the defense was able to question them Tuesday.

The court is now in recess until Wednesday after Cruz's defense team raised concerns about a possible procedural misstep.

They raised the issue after several jurors were released earlier Tuesday afternoon.

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The judge asked a group of potential jurors in court if they could or could not follow the law.

About 11 or so jurors raised their hands, saying that they could not. They were then released and sent out of the building.

Since the case is only in phase one of jury selection, Scherer has been limiting questions to only if potential jurors had hardships for serving on a jury for several months.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks to prospective jurors during jury selection for penalty phase of Nikolas Cruz murder trial, April 5, 2022
Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks to prospective jurors during jury pre-selection in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, Tuesday, April 5, 2022, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Those hardships include having a vacation, wedding plans, a job issue or family problems.

The question if they can or cannot follow the law wasn't supposed to be asked until phase two, which is set to happen in May.

The defense is now saying those 11 or so jurors were excused without attorneys having the chance to further ask them questions.

Jury expert Joe Guastaferro said what the judge did is uncommon.

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"This particular circumstance is very unusual that jurors have been dismissed and now they're being called back," he said. "I've never heard of that happening, and it's not if there's a shortage of jurors."

It's a procedural issue that had Cruz's defense team asking for time to consider seeking a mistrial motion.

Ultimately, Scherer decided to recess for the day and will reconvene Wednesday morning.

Guastaferro said declaring a mistrial, even this early on in the process, creates concerns.

"I think the jurors are taking this very seriously, I think both sides are taking this very seriously and I think these 11 potential jurors should be let go," he said.

Cruz has already pleaded guilty to killing 17 people during the 2018 rampage.

The 12 jurors selected will have to decide whether Cruz will face the death penalty or life in prison without parole for killing seventeen people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.