The jury selection for school shooter Nikolas Cruz turned into a melee in a Florida courtroom Tuesday when a potential juror “mouthed expletives” at Cruz, causing deputies to swarm and protect the defendant.
A 70-member jury pool was filing into the Fort Lauderdale courtroom when Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the first man to enter began mouthing potential threats to Cruz, who confessed to killing 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
As bailiffs tried to remove the man, he shook his head and said “that’s horrible” as he walked past courtroom reporters.
Other potential jurors then became “excited,” and made inaudible comments, according to Scherer. The man who was mouthing at Cruz then started looking over his shoulder at the defendant, leading deputies to fear he would run towards the 23-year-old and be followed by others.
“The sheriff’s office observed all of that and determined they needed to protect Mr. Cruz,” Scherer said, of the half-dozen armed deputies in the courtroom.
“One instigates and then there are many followers,” explained Broward Sheriff’s Capt. Osvaldo Tianga, the head of courthouse security.
The alleged instigator told deputies he was not trying to cause problems but became emotional when seeing Cruz, officials said.
A 12-member panel of jurors with eight alternates is being selected to decide whether Cruz is executed or sentenced to life in prison, and the potential jurors did not have advance knowledge that they were being considered to deliberate the notorious killer’s fate
More than 1,800 potential jurors have passed through the courtroom since selection began earlier this month. In one earlier instance, 60 people had to be dismissed after many of them became emotional, potentially influencing the others. About a dozen others had been quietly removed because they started crying.
Scherer dismissed the entire panel after Tuesday’s incident and said many became “belligerent” and “got mouthy” when they were escorted out of the courtroom.
Jury selection was set to resume Wednesday.
With AP wires