Defense attorney’s possible health issue delays Nikolas Cruz death penalty jury selection


FORT LAUDERDALE — The latest delay in picking a jury for the death penalty trial of confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz came Monday when court was recessed until next week because of a possible health issue affecting one of the attorneys working the case.

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer announced that the second round of jury selection will begin May 9. It was initially due to begin Monday, with 40 of the 243 potential jurors who survived the first round told to return so they could be asked their views on the death penalty and knowledge of the case.

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill speaks with her client, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, during a hearing at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill speaks with her client, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, during a hearing at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.

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But that was scuttled after Cruz’s lead defense attorney, Melisa McNeill, did not appear in court.

Scherer did not refer to the cause of McNeill’s absence but was heard asking one of Cruz’s other attorneys if McNeill was being “tested.” The judge and attorneys on both sides continued their discussion privately on headphones with white noise played in the courtroom to hide their voices.

An assistant state attorney working with the prosecution team was also not in attendance Monday without explanation.

If McNeill is unable to return next week, jury selection would likely be pushed back further.

Before ending Monday’s proceedings, Scherer questioned 10 of 11 juror candidates whom she admitted to dismissing improperly April 5 after they said they could not follow the law in Cruz’s case. Each of the prospective jurors returned to court after receiving hand-delivered summonses over the weekend from the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

The one juror who did not show up is believed to have moved, Scherer said.

Nine of the 10 potential jurors interviewed Monday were dismissed after citing financial or other hardships that precluded them from serving on what is expected to be a three- to four-month trial. One man said he didn’t have a hardship and was moved into the jury pool for the second round of questioning.

Cruz, 23, admitted to killing 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine’s Day 2018. He also shot 17 others.

The 12 jurors who eventually areselected will be tasked with deciding whether Cruz, who briefly lived near Lantana prior to the shootings, is executed or spends the rest of his life in prison.

Scherer has said the trial will begin June 21. It was originally scheduled to commence May 31, then was pushed back to June 14 before being reset again.

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@caneswatch

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Nikolas Cruz trial: Defense attorney’s absence causes latest delay



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