Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer reversed her Monday decision to reopen jury selection. This was due to a mistake she may have made. She stated then that she would discard 243 potential jurors who claimed they could serve between June and September, the length of the trial.
She said that she would now order the 11 potential jurors she had dismissed on April 5, without any questioning, to be brought back in court to be questioned by the attorneys. She spoke of the 243 potential jurors who had been dismissed and said that the first 40 would be returned for the second round.
Both sides were confused by the decision, even Mike Satz, the Broward County State Attorney for 44 years, who resigned last year. His successor is currently working on a special assignment to manage the Cruz prosecution team. Satz interjected Scherer at one point to inquire about her plans.
Scherer is currently the head of her first death penalty case. She has been a judge for ten years. Her appointment came shortly after Cruz, 23 years old, murdered 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school on February 14, 2018. The random method in Florida was used to select her.
Cruz pleaded guilty to the charges in October. In a three-step process, Scherer, defense attorneys and prosecutors will select 12 jurors and 8 alternates. The jury will decide whether Stoneman Douglas' former student will be sentenced to death or to life imprisonment without parole.
The dispute centred on April 5, which was the second day of jury selection. It concerns Scherer’s handling of 60 potential jurors. This was the fifth appearance of such a panel in court.
Scherer asked each group if potential jurors were experiencing any hardships that would prevent them from serving between June and September. The people who have indicated that they are able to serve are being asked to return next month for further questions.
Scherer then asked the fifth group if they would follow the law if selected -- a question that was not supposed to be asked until either the second or third phases. Twelve hands were raised.
They were dismissed by Scherer without any further questioning. This drew objections from both Cruz's lawyers and prosecutors. They wanted to be sure that they weren't just trying to avoid jury service. Florida jury candidates must be questioned before being dismissed.
Scherer attempted to get the jurors back, but none of them had returned to the courthouse. She claimed that the Broward County Sheriff's Office would send summonses to the 11 other jurors to return to court on Monday. However, this was not accomplished for unknown reasons.
They would be asked to return next week. But, she was convinced by prosecutors to restart the process and to dismiss all 243 jurors that had been chosen. According to the prosecution, Scherer's error was such that Cruz could be given a death sentence, an appeals court could reverse it and order a new trial. The defense asked her to suspend proceedings so that the 11 could be brought in next Wednesday.
The defense filed a motion Wednesday alleging Cruz's constitutional rights against double jeopardy and due process had been violated. They accused Schererer and the prosecutors of acting "badly" and demanded that Cruz be sentenced immediately to life imprisonment, with the possibility of the death penalty. Prosecutors reacted angrily to the accusation, calling it "baseless."
Scherer dismissed the defense's motion as "a stretch", but she then reversed her position.
Scherer instructed both sides to come together over the next few weeks to plan how they would like to proceed beginning Monday. It was not clear what would happen to the 155 jurors who had passed this week's first round and whether they would be brought back next month. The lawyers would have nearly 400 options to choose from if they were still in play.
Jurors will determine whether aggravating factors, Cruz's multiple deaths, Cruz’s planning, and Cruz's cruelty, outweigh mitigating elements such as the defendant’s mental and emotional issues, possible sexual abuse, and the death of his parents.
Cruz can only be executed if the jury votes unanimously in favor of the death penalty. Cruz will be sentenced to death without parole if he is opposed by any of the jurors.