A jury of seven men and five women was chosen Tuesday to decide whether Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz should be sentenced to death or get life in prison for his 2018 massacre, capping a nearly three-month selection process that began with 1,800 candidates.
Cruz shot and killed seven 14-year-old students Alaina Petty, Alex Schachter, Alyssa Alhadeff, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Jamie Guttenberg and Martin Duque.
Cruz killed two 15-year-old boys, Peter Wang and Luke Hoyer, and he killed students Carmen Schentrup, 16; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Helena Ramsay, 17; and Meadow Pollack, 18.
Cruz also killed three school employees: Scott Beigel, 35, cross country coach and geography teacher; Aaron Feis, 37, an assistant football coach and security monitor; and Chris Hixon, 49, an athletic director and wrestling coach.
In October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
In June, seven men and five women swore to serve as jurors in the case. They will have to decide if Cruz deserves to be executed for his crimes.
Attorney David Weinstein, a partner with Jones Walker Waechter in Miami, is not working on Cruz’s case, but he has been following it closely. He expects prosecutors to focus on the premeditated aspects and the heinous actions.
Defense attorneys will likely harp on his mental condition and approach aspects of Cruz’s childhood and background. Weinstein said they will focus on evidence implying that Cruz was operating under duress.
Scherer estimates the trial will run for four to five months. Reliving the horrible day and the suffering will be traumatic. Weinstein said there will be evidence that will be disturbing. The jury’s decision must be unanimous for the death penalty to stand. Otherwise, Scherer will have to sentence Cruz to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The jury will decide whether Cruz, 23, receives the death penalty or life without parole for the murders of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
Cruz pleaded guilty in October to those murders and 17 counts of attempted murder, so the jurors will only decide his punishment.
The jury was chosen from a final pool of 53 candidates who survived three rounds of questioning that began April 4. Jury selection had been expected to take about a month, but was beset by numerous delays because of sickness and other factors.
The jurors chosen were two banking executives and two tech workers, a probation officer, a human resources professional and a Walmart store stock supervisor.Also included are a librarian, a medical claims adjuster, a legal assistant and two retired executives from the insurance and health care fields.In addition to the jurors, a group of between eight and 10 alternates was still being chosen late Tuesday.
Each side was given the opportunity to persuade Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that a particular candidate was biased. And if she disagreed, each side also had at least 10 peremptory challenges where they could eliminate candidates for any reason except race or gender.
The panel will have a task never faced by a U.S. jury — no American mass shooter who killed at least 17 people has ever made it to trial. Nine others died during or immediately after their shooting attacks, killed either by police or themselves. The suspect in the 2019 slaying of 23 at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, is awaiting trial.
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