Nikolas Cruz penalty phase jury selection starting over

Judge says 'miscommunication' resulted in 11 potential jurors not returning to court
Judge Elizabeth Scherer looks down with hand on her face during jury selection for penalty phase of Nikolas Cruz murder trial, April 25, 2022
Posted at 8:54 AM, Apr 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-25 22:58:41-04

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Jury selection in the death penalty trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is starting over after the judge suggested her own mistake requires it.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled Monday that she should have questioned potential jurors who said they would not follow the law before she dismissed them.

The decision would nullify two weeks of work by lawyers for the prosecution and defense.

It's been anything but smooth since jury selection started during the first week of April.

Eleven potential jurors who were dismissed that week were expected back in court Monday so that attorneys on both sides could have the chance to question them, but Judge Elizabeth Scherer said there was a "miscommunication."

"We're going to get them here next week," she said.

The South Florida SunSentinel reported last week that the 11 in question hadn't received official notices to appear.

After defense attorneys raised concerns about a possible procedural misstep, Scherer said on April 6 that she would make her "best effort" to get them back.

Scherer initially dismissed them after they told her they couldn't follow the law if asked to decide whether Cruz should receive the death penalty.

RELATED: Who's who in penalty phase for Parkland school shooter?

The state wanted to strike the panel of prospective jurors and start jury selection all over, but defense attorneys object to beginning again.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks with Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann and Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis during jury selection of Nikolas Cruz murder trial, April 25, 2022
Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks with Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann, left, and Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis during a sidebar discussion prior to jury pre-selection in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, Monday, April 25, 2022, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Prosecutors are arguing that error has been embedded in these proceedings already.

"There's too many issues at this point," Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann said. "It's better to just start fresh."

After six days of jury selection, more than 200 people were in the jury pool.

"So we have lost six days total of jury selection versus what we're going to be looking at down the road if we compound this error, which we will be, your honor,, if we keep going," McCann said.

Scherer said she would grant the motion to begin again but would give the defense the opportunity to argue it further Wednesday.

"At this time, the defense believes that this motion is premature and we are not in agreement with the state's request," Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill said.

Nevertheless, Scherer granted the motion and a new pool of potential jurors was sworn in Monday.

Testimony now isn't scheduled to begin until June 21.

Cruz has already pleaded guilty to killing 17 people during the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The 12 jurors selected will have to decide whether Cruz will face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.