FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Deputies protecting Florida school gunman Nikolas Cruz had to sideline and surround him on Tuesday after a member of a jury made possible threats against him and provoked the others’ excitement, causing them to fear a potential fight. , officials said.
A group of 70 potential jurors were filing into the courtroom and taking their seats when one of the first to enter, a man in his 30s, began “swearing” at Cruz, the judge said. Elizabeth Scherer circuit.
Cruz, 23, faces a death sentence for the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018.
Bailiffs moved quickly to remove the man, who vigorously shook his head and muttered “that’s awful” repeatedly as he walked past seated reporters towards the back of the courtroom.
At this point, several other jurors became “excited” and said something that couldn’t be heard, Scherer said. The first man then started looking over his shoulder at Cruz. The half-dozen armed deputies still standing directly behind Cruz then grabbed and surrounded him, fearing that the first juror was about to run towards them and be joined by others.
“The sheriff’s office watched all of this and determined that they had to protect Mr. Cruz,” Scherer said.
“There’s incitement and then there’s a lot of followers,” said Broward Sheriff’s Captain Osvaldo Tianga, the courthouse’s chief of security.
Melisa McNeill, Cruz’s main public defender, told Scherer that she understood the deputies’ first priority was to protect Cruz and everyone in the courtroom, but didn’t realize that would require that he is physically moved.
“I understand that’s the job. I don’t dispute” their actions, McNeill said. But she wondered if the deputies could just stand between Cruz and the threat if something similar happened again.
Tianga said every situation is different, but he would consider her suggestion.
Cruz pleaded guilty in October. A 12-member jury and eight alternates are selected in a two-month, three-stage process to decide whether he is sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. More than 1,800 jurors have passed through the courtroom, most without incident since the process began on April 4.
A panel of 60 had to be dismissed on April 12 after eight became obviously emotional upon seeing Cruz, possibly influencing the others. A dozen other people were quietly removed from various panels because they started crying.
Panels are not told they are being brought up as potential jurors to Cruz, though it is widely known throughout South Florida that the process has begun. At this point, potential jurors are only asked if they could serve June through September, the expected length of the trial. Those who can will be brought back next month for further questioning.
Tuesday had been a boring, routine day. It was a stark difference from Monday, when Scherer announced she was firing 250 potential jurors who passed the initial screening due to a possible mistake she made and starting the screening process over again. Two panels of 70 people had been brought in without significant incident. A few potential jurors had been quietly taken out for crying.
But that changed when the first after-lunch panel was introduced. With most eyes on the jurors, Cruz’s attorneys drew the bailiffs’ attention, pointing them to Juror #19. They stepped in to pull him out, beginning the sequence. this resulted in Cruz being sidelined for protection.
After leaving the courtroom, the man told deputies he was not trying to cause trouble but was emotional and wanted to curse Cruz, using an obscenity to make his point, according to a reporter in the hallway.
Inside the courtroom, Scherer and the lawyers had a quick talk and the judge then dismissed the entire panel, who she said became ‘belligerent’ as they waited for the elevator takes them back to the lobby and “gaps” at the deputies.
The juror who started it all told deputies that they — or perhaps the system — had traumatized potential jurors, according to the reporter.
Scherer said deputies followed the group out of the courthouse to make sure they didn’t say anything to potential jurors waiting to be brought into his courtroom.