FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida.
Jury selection in the penalty trial of Florida school gunman Nikolas Cruz is set to begin April 4, the judge said Friday during a status conference with attorneys.
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer has also set aside full days on March 30 and 31 to work out any issues the two sides may have before jury selection begins. Hearings will take place in the courtroom where the trial will take place so that attorneys can familiarize themselves with the technology used during the trial.
“We have a very good organizational plan and most of the issues have been resolved,” Scherer said. “It is a very good start.”
Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. But a jury has yet to decide whether he will be executed or sentenced to life without parole. The penalty trial is expected to last at least two months.
Scherer and defense and prosecution attorneys discussed how jurors will be selected and what the judge will say as they try to determine whether members of the jury panel can be fair and impartial.
They set jury selection to begin on April 4 and run through April 6, with April 7 and 8 reserved for completing the depositions of the many possible witnesses.
It was Valentine’s Day in 2018 when Cruz opened fire on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 14 students and three staff members. The shooting also injured 17 other people.
The trial was originally scheduled to start in 2020, but it has been repeatedly delayed during the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, prosecutors told the judge they needed more time to testify dozens of defense witnesses.
Under Florida law, prosecutors and defense attorneys are allowed to question the other side’s witnesses before trial so they know what they are expected to say and can prepare for their cross-examination.
During the trial, the jurors will see evidence that would have been presented had there been a trial.
Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice confirmed a $127.5 million settlement with the victims’ families following the FBI’s failure to investigate a tip received about a month before the Parkland massacre.