MPs defend Parkland shooter Nicholas Cruz after potential juror threat for fear of possible fight

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida. Deputies defending Florida school shooter Nicholas Cruz were forced to take him aside and surround him on Tuesday after a juror pool member voiced possible threats against him and caused others to be “excited” by making them wary of a potential fight, officials said.

A group of 70 potential jurors were gathering into the courtroom and taking their seats when one of the first to enter, a man in his 30s, began “cursing obscenities” at Cruz, District Judge Elizabeth Scherer said. Cruz, 23, faces a possible death sentence for killing 17 people at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018.

Bailiffs quickly arrived to remove the man, who was shaking his head vigorously and muttering “that’s awful” several times as he passed reporters seated at the back of the courtroom.

According to Scherer, at this point, several other jurors were “getting excited” and saying something that could not be heard. Then the first man began to look over his shoulder at Cruz. Half a dozen armed deputies, who always stand right behind Cruz, then grabbed and surrounded him, fearing that the first juror was about to run towards them and others would join him.

“The sheriff’s office was watching all of this and decided they needed to protect Mr. Cruz,” Scherer said.

“One incites and then many followers show up,” explained Sheriff Captain Broward Oswaldo Tianga, head of courthouse security.

Melisa McNeil, Cruz’s chief public defender, told Scherer that she understood MPs’ first priority was to protect Cruz and everyone in the courtroom, but didn’t realize it would require him to be physically moved.

“I appreciate this work. I don’t dispute their actions,” McNeil said. But she wondered if MPs could simply stand between Cruz and the threat if something like this happened again.

Tianga said every situation is different, but he will consider her suggestion.

Cruz pleaded guilty in October. In a two-month, three-stage process, 12 members, eight alternate jurors, will be selected to decide whether he receives a death sentence or life in prison without parole. More than 1,800 jurors have passed through the courtroom, mostly without incident, since trial began on April 4.

One group of 60 had to disband on April 12 after eight people became visibly emotional after seeing Cruise, which may have affected the others. About a dozen others were quietly removed from various panels because they started crying.

The groups are not told that they are being considered as potential jurors for Cruz, although it is widely known throughout South Florida that the trial has begun. For now, potential jurors are only being asked if they can work from June to September, the expected length of the trial. Those who can will be returned next month for further questioning.

Tuesday was a boring, routine day. It was a marked difference from Monday, when Scherer announced she was firing 250 potential jurors who made it through the initial selection due to a possible mistake she made and starting the selection process over again. Two panels of 70 people passed without any major incident. Several would-be jurors were quietly dismissed for crying.

But that changed when the first group after dinner was introduced. Most eyes were on the jury’s filing, and Cruz’s lawyers got the attention of the bailiffs by pointing them to juror #19. They went over to remove him, starting the sequence. this resulted in Cruz being pulled aside for protection.

After he left the courtroom, the man told deputies that he was not trying to cause trouble, but was emotional and wanted to curse Cruz using obscenities to prove his point, according to a reporter in the hallway.

In the courtroom, Scherer and the lawyers briefly conferred, and then the judge dismissed the entire group, which she said had become “militant”, while they waited for the elevator to take them back to the lobby and “talked” to the deputies.

According to the reporter, the juror who started it all told deputies that they – or perhaps the system – were traumatizing would-be jurors.

Sherer said deputies followed the group out of the courthouse to make sure they didn’t say anything to potential jurors waiting to be led into her courtroom.

Jury selection will resume on Wednesday.

© 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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