Monday marks the start of jury selection for Nikolas Cruz charges. He allegedly attacked a Broward County prison guard nine months following the February. 14th of February 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school in Parkland was gunned down.
Cruz, a Stoneman Douglas former student, got into a brawl with Sgt. Raymond Beltran was jailed for the murders of 14 students, three staff members and 17 other woundings. The murder trial has not been scheduled. This has been delayed due to the pandemic, arguments over witnesses and evidence. It could begin in the coming months.
"The accused murderer who took the lives of our children is clearly violent. He took that out on his guard. Tony Montalto, president and CEO of Stand With Parkland (a group made up of victims' families), stated that he must face the justice system. Gina, his 14-year old daughter, was killed in the shooting.
Cruz, 23 years old, could face a 15-year sentence for attempted criminal battery on law enforcement officers and three other lesser charges. Cruz could be sentenced to death or life without parole if he's found guilty of first degree murder. However, this trial is still relevant. If Cruz is convicted for attacking Beltran, the prosecutors may argue that this is an aggravating circumstance when they seek Cruz's execution during the penalty phase.
"If it is entered as an aggravating fact, it will not be difficult for that to be in front of the jury's minds," stated Mark Dobson, a Nova Southeastern University law school professor and former Florida prosecutor.
Prosecutors refused to comment on the matter, stating only that "the case's evidence and jail video speak for themselves".
Cruz's public lawyers declined to comment and said they didn't want the victim's families further traumatized by talking about their client.
Cruz's lawyers are expected to claim that Beltran mistreated Cruz before and provoked the brawl in Broward County jail recreation areas on Nov. 13, 2018. This brawl was recorded on a soundless security camera.
According to court records Melisa McNeill was Cruz's lead lawyer and had complained about Beltran's treatment six weeks prior to the fight with the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Although no details have been made public about the alleged mistreatment, his attorneys stated at a recent court hearing they believe Beltran was the only guard they ever complained about.
Cruz's lawyers claim that the sheriff's office deleted video of Cruz and Beltran's three-hours together before the fight. They asked within one day for it to be preserved, and were told that it was.
The preserved video begins just a few minutes before the brawl. The video shows Cruz walking in circles, his head down, around attached benches. He is wearing an orange jail jumpsuit with a white long-sleeve shirt and sandals. Beltran is seated at a corner table.
Cruz suddenly stops at Beltran about 10 feet (3 m) away. The two seem to be exchanging words. Beltran said that Cruz asked him not to drag his feet or damage his sandals.
Cruz flips Beltran's middle fingers and charges the guard who defends himself. Cruz, who is 130 pounds and 60 kilograms in weight, throws Beltran to the ground before the guard can flip him and briefly pin him. Cruz grabs Beltran’s stun gun, and the two of them fight over it, apparently jolting neither.
Beltran grabs Cruz and Cruz take up boxing stances. Beltran is hit in the shoulder by Cruz, and the guard strikes Cruz in the head. He is stunned.
Beltran raises his stun gun to point at Cruz who was sitting on a bench. Cruz is placed face-down on the ground, and is then handcuffed. The fight lasted just over a minute. Both were not seriously injured.
Due to Cruz's reputation in South Florida, jury selection will take three days. In a typical jail battery case with a defendant that the public does not know, it might take several hours. To seat six jurors and alternates, the court will screen 400 applicants. According to The Florida Bar, 22 people are required for jail battery and similar felonies.
Cruz's lawyers will try to get rid of any candidate who cannot separate their knowledge about Stoneman Douglas from the only considerations jurors should make during the trial: Was Cruz a victim in the Stoneman Douglas massacre? If so, was he provoked to attack Beltran? As the assault charge is not relevant to this case, testimony about the killings won't be allowed. It would be prejudicial.
The trial will only last for one to three days after the jury has been selected.
The murder trial is expected last for months. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer held frequent hearings in recent week to discuss issues that need to be resolved before the trial begins.
Montalto stated that "the wheels of justice grind slowly" and was especially true for our group of families.
Cruz's lawyers have indicated that he would plead guilty for 17 murders in return for a life sentence. The offer was declined by the prosecution, who said that this case is one that should result in the death penalty.