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Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks to prospective jurors during jury pre-selection in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on April 6, 2022.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks to prospective jurors during jury pre-selection in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on April 6, 2022. (Amy Beth Bennett, South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — A judge dismissed an entire panel of 60 jurors Monday afternoon after too many became visibly upset at the prospect of deciding the fate of the Parkland mass shooter.

Eight potential jurors — seven women and one man — were escorted from the courtroom when they could not contain their emotional reaction to learning they might be picked to serve on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting case.

With confessed killer Nikolas Cruz in the same courtroom, just a few yards away, one prospective juror after another left in tears — the first woman to leave could be heard loudly crying as soon as she left the courtroom. Subsequent jurors held back tears, or sniffled, their faces distraught.

Cruz himself appeared to have an emotional response to the display, dropping his head and looking away from the panel momentarily before facing them again.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she would dismiss the pool of 60 jurors, who still could be used in other trials, and start fresh. The raw emotion had tainted the jury pool, she said.

While this was not the first time potential jurors let their emotions get the best of them in Cruz’s presence, it was the most extreme case. Before Tuesday afternoon, Scherer was able to keep the process moving by having emotional jurors removed and questioned later in the day, outside the presence of other jurors.

Last fall, before he pleaded guilty, Cruz was set to go on trial for assaulting a detention deputy who was guarding him at the Broward main jail. That trial was set to begin last October, and a handful of potential jurors had similar emotional reactions to seeing Cruz, who later pleaded guilty to that charge as well.

The current trial is in its fourth day of jury pre-selection. The upcoming trial, scheduled to run through the summer, is to determine whether a jury will recommend a sentence of life in prison or death for Cruz, who pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in connection with the Valentine’s Day 2018 mass shooting.

A new panel was brought into the courtroom less than an hour after the earlier one was removed.

©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Visit sun-sentinel.com.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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