Alarmed deputies forced to surround Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz to protect him from would-be jurors

Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Deputies protecting Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz had to pull him aside and surround him on Tuesday after a member of a panel of jurors denounced possible threats against him and it made others “excited”, leading them to fear a possible fight. , officials said.

A group of 70 potential jurors were entering the courtroom and taking their seats when one of the first to enter, a man in his 30s, began “swearing” against Cruz, Judge Elizabeth Scherer said. Cruz, 23, faces a possible death sentence for murdering 17 at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018.

Bailiffs moved quickly to remove the man, who shook his head vigorously and muttered “this is horrible” repeatedly as he passed reporters seated at the back of the courtroom.

At this point, several other jurors got “excited” and were saying something that couldn’t be heard, Scherer said. The first man then began to look over his shoulder at Cruz. The half-dozen armed deputies who always stay right behind Cruz then grabbed him and surrounded him, fearing that the first juror was about to run towards them and be joined by others.

“The sheriff’s office looked at all of this and determined that they needed to protect Mr. Cruz,” Scherer said.

“One instigates and then there are many followers,” explained Broward Sheriff captain Osvaldo Tianga, the court’s head of security.

Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz enters courtroom for jury pre-selection in the penalty phase of the trial at Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on April 13, 2022.

Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP

Melisa McNeill, Cruz’s top public advocate, told Scherer that she understands the deputies’ first priority is to protect Cruz and everyone in the courtroom, but did not realize that doing so would require him to be physically moved.

“I appreciate that this is the job. I’m not challenging” your actions, McNeill said. But she wondered if deputies could simply stand between Cruz and the threat if something similar happens again.

Tianga said that every situation is different, but he would consider her suggestion.

Cruz pleaded guilty in October. A 12-member, eight-alternate jury is being selected in a two-month, three-step process to decide whether he will receive a death sentence or life in prison without parole. More than 1,800 jurors have passed through the courtroom, most without incident since the proceedings began on April 4.

A panel of 60 people had to be let go on April 12, after eight were obviously thrilled to see Cruz, possibly influencing others. About a dozen others were discreetly removed from various panels because they began to cry.

Panels are not told they are being presented as potential jurors for Cruz, although it is widely known throughout South Florida that the process has begun. At this point, potential jurors are only being asked whether they can serve from June to September, the expected length of the trial. Those who can will be brought back next month for further inquiries.

Tuesday had been a boring, routine day. It was a marked difference from Monday, when Scherer announced she was letting go of 250 potential jurors who had passed the initial screening because of a possible mistake she had made and restarted the selection process. Two panels of 70 were brought in without significant incident. Some potential jurors were quietly removed for crying.

But that changed when the first after-lunch panel was brought in. With most eyes focused on the jurors entering, Cruz’s lawyers caught the attention of the bailiffs, pointing them at Juror #19. They moved to remove him, starting the sequence that led to Cruz being pulled aside. for protection.

After leaving the courthouse, the man told deputies he was not trying to cause trouble but was emotional and wanted to curse Cruz, using an obscenity to make his point, according to a reporter in the hallway.

Inside the courtroom, Scherer and the lawyers quickly checked in and the judge then dismissed the entire panel, who she said had become “belligerent” as they waited for the elevator to take them back to the lobby and “gawked at the deputies.”

The juror who started it all told deputies that they – or perhaps the system – traumatized potential jurors, according to the reporter.

Scherer said deputies followed the group out of court to ensure they didn’t say anything to potential jurors waiting to be taken to court.

Jury selection resumed on Wednesday.

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