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Parkland, Florida, school shooter jury selection begins

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Jury selection in the deadliest mass shooting ever tried begins Monday with a preliminary screening for the panel that will decide whether Nikolas Cruz should be executed for murder 17 students and staff at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Court officials say 1,500 candidates or more could be brought before District Judge Elizabeth Scherer, prosecutors and Cruz public defenders for initial review in the next few weeks. The final panel consists of 12 judges plus eight alternates. Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to the February 14, 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, meaning the jury will only decide whether he receives a death sentence or life without parole.

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Seven other US killers who fatally shot at least 17 people died during or immediately after their attacks, either by suicide or at the hands of police. The suspect in the 2019 massacre of 23 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas is still awaiting trial.

Death penalty trials in Florida and much of the country often take two years to begin, however, because of their complexity Cruz’s was further delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and extensive legal disputes.

Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina died in the attack, said the trial was “a long time coming.”

“I just hope everyone remembers the victims,” ​​he said. Cruz, he said, “told the world his plans on social media, coldly and calculatedly carried out those plans, and murdered my beautiful daughter, 13 of her classmates and three of her teachers.”

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The victims’ parents and spouses, who have spoken out publicly, said they support Cruz’s execution. Montalto didn’t answer the question directly, but has said on multiple occasions that Cruz “deserves every chance he gave Gina and the others.”

Juror prospects will be brought into the courtroom in groups of 60, about four a day, Monday through Wednesday for the next few weeks.

They are asked if they can put aside any animosity toward Cruz and judge the case fairly. You will then be asked if they are available from June to September. From each group, Scherer hopes that five will remain.

Candidates who clear these hurdles are taken to another room where they fill out a background and beliefs questionnaire for lawyers to review later. You will be brought back for individual questioning in a few weeks. To qualify for the jury, they must say they can vote for the death penalty if the evidence supports that verdict, but also don’t believe it should be mandatory for murder.

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Both prosecutors and the defense may challenge any potential juror on cause. Scherer will eliminate candidates who attorneys on both sides believe would be prejudiced against their side. Each side also gets at least 10 forced strikes, where each can eliminate a contestant for any reason other than race or gender.

For Cruz, a former student of Stoneman Douglas, to receive the death penalty, the jury must unanimously agree that aggravating factors such as the number of people he has killed, his planning, and his cruelty outweigh such mitigating factors as his lifelong insanity and the death of his parents.

If a jury disagrees, Cruz receives a life sentence.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.ksat.com/news/national/2022/04/04/parkland-florida-school-shooters-jury-selection-to-begin/ Parkland, Florida, school shooter jury selection begins

Andrew Schnitker

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