Judge rules Nikolas Cruz jurors can tour Stoneman Douglas school building where 17 were killed

Judge rules Nikolas Cruz jurors can tour Stoneman Douglas school building where 17 were killed

USA News


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The jurors who will determine whether Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz must spend the rest of his life in prison or face the death penalty will soon walk around the building where he killed 17 people four years ago, a judge ruled Tuesday

Broward Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Tuesday struck down a challenge by Cruz’s attorneys to the jury’s planned tour to the site of the nation’s deadly school shooting. “The Court finds that a jury view of the crime scene remains useful and proper,” Scherer wrote in her order, released on the second day of jury selection.

Cruz killed 17 people – 14 students and three Stoneman Douglas staff members – during a seven-minute shooting spree on Feb. 14, 2018, in Building 12 on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Those who died were Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duque, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Christopher Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16, and Peter Wang, 15.

Cruz’s defense team had argued that a tour of Building 12, which had been the main freshmen building on campus, is unnecessary because Cruz pleaded guilty to first-degree murder charges last October and there is ample video footage of the crime scene, about 15 miles southwest of Boca Raton, Florida.

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It’s unusual for juries to tour crime scenes, especially one as potentially emotional as Building 12, which stands on the north side of the campus, fenced off and unused since the day of the shootings. It still holds that day’s bloodstains, bullet marks, Valentine’s Day cards, and teddy bears.

Law enforcement officials took the view that preserving the building as a crime scene would allow jurors to walk the path Cruz walked during the shootings. Sherer agreed.

After the trial, Broward County officials will demolish the building.

Jury selection is expected to consume the next several weeks, with Scherer saying Monday she anticipates testimony will begin May 31, the day after Memorial Day. During the sentencing phase, jurors will see the same evidence and hear the same witnesses as they would have at trial had Cruz, who lived briefly with a family friend near Lantana, Florida, just prior to the shootings, not pleaded guilty in October.

As a result, it could be September before they recommend action to Scherer. The choice of the death penalty must be unanimous; Cruz will receive a sentence of life in prison if even one juror objects. If the jury calls for death, Scherer then must decide whether to follow its recommendation; her review could take several weeks.

Scherer questioned two more groups of potential jurors on Tuesday seeking to identify Broward County residents who could apply the law fairly. She clarified to all those brought in that she would not excuse people merely for being familiar with the case. 

The process to select the 12 jurors and eight alternates has proven to be slow. Most potential jurors have excused themselves from consideration, citing work and family obligations.

More than 300 people have been interviewed in two days but fewer than 40 have made it to the next stage, where they fill out a questionnaire with their knowledge of the case and await further screening by the court. 

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Between pools of jurors, the defense argued Cruz should have access to the headset where the judge and attorneys communicate for sidebars, and Sherer granted it. 

Cruz wore a gray button-down shirt and looked at the potential jurors coming in and out of the courtroom behind his oval glasses. He wore a mask at all times. He sat between his attorneys, occasionally whispering to them, and only spoke to confirm his understanding of the headset.

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