Deputies had to jump in to protect Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz after a prospective jury member began ‘mouthing expletives’ toward him and caused others to become ‘excited,’ prompting fear of a fight, officials said.
About 70 potential jurors were entering the Florida courtroom Tuesday when the first to enter, a man in his 30s, began ‘mouthing expletives’ at Cruz, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said.
Cruz is facing a possible death sentence for murdering 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018.
When bailiffs tried to remove the man he shook his head and said ‘that’s horrible,’ while walking past courtroom reporters. As he was being led out of the courtroom, the juror looked back at Cruz, prompting deputies to surround him.
Several other potential jurors then became ‘excited’ and were saying something that could not be heard, Scherer said.
The half-dozen armed deputies who stand behind Cruz then grabbed and surrounded him, thinking the first juror would charge toward them and be joined by others.
‘The sheriff’s office observed all of that and determined they needed to protect Mr Cruz,’ Scherer said.
The head of courthouse security, Broward Sheriff’s Captain Osvaldo Tianga, explained that if one instigated there may be many to follow in pursuit.
The alleged instigator told deputies he was not trying to start a fight or cause problems, but had become emotional when he saw Cruz.
Cruz pleaded guilty in October. Now, a 12-person jury with eight alternates is being selected in a process that is expected to take two months. Once selected, jurors will be left to decide whether Cruz receives the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Over 1,800 jurors have come through the courtroom, mostly without incident since the selection process began on April 4.
The panels of potential jurors are not being told they are being considered as potential Cruz jurors, though it’s known in Southern Florida that the selection process has started. Potential jurors are asked if they will be available from June through September, the trial’s expected length.
One panel of about 60 potential jurors had to be dismissed on April 12 after eight participants became very emotional seeing Cruz. At least a dozen other potential jurors from other panels have been removed from the process after they started crying upon seeing Cruz.
Scherer said deputies followed the group removed from the courthouse to make sure they didn’t say anything to prospective jurors waiting to be brought in.
Jury selection was to resume Wednesday.
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