FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Parkland school shooting trial wrapped up its first week on Wednesday, with several dozen potential jurors passing the first cut to serve in a case that is expected to last through September.
Despite the explosive nature of the trial, the first week opened quietly, with the Fort Lauderdale courtroom spectator benches nearly empty on Wednesday.
During trial hours, potential jurors were given the opportunity to outline any time commitments that would prevent them from sitting in such a lengthy case. Most were excused, usually citing work commitments, vacation plans or the need to care for family members.
Jurors without such a pledge were asked to complete questionnaires and return to court in May for the second round of questioning. To choose the 12-member jury and eight alternates, potential jurors will be interviewed closely by lawyers for both sides and the judge.
Of approximately 1,000 potential jurors called for the first round of selection, several dozen made it through.
The first phase of jury selection is expected to continue three days a week until the end of May.
So far, a handful of potential jurors from each panel have been kicked out of the courtroom because they had an emotional reaction to seeing the defendant and realizing what case they were being asked to serve on. In previous panels, jurors who showed this reaction were questioned separately about their reactions and dismissed from the case.
On Wednesday, a woman who had a strong reaction could barely get the words out as she explained that she suffered from anxiety and was very sensitive. The judge simply asked her if she had any scheduling conflicts or other difficulties, and dismissed her.
The judge did the same with the next potential juror who had a strong reaction, since the essence of people’s difficulties will be revealed during the second phase of jury selection.
Jury selection will resume Monday morning. The jury’s only job will be to decide whether to sentence the killer to life in prison without parole or death.
Nikolas Cruz has already pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people and injuring 17 others in the February 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Defense lawyers raised the issue of a mistrial on Tuesday after 11 potential jurors were removed from duty before the defense had a chance to question them. But Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she would call them back, saving the first two days of jury selection.
Scherer also clarified a question that arose Tuesday when an oath was sworn to a panel of jurors in court. Monday’s panels had not taken the same oath. Experts viewed the seriousness of the omission as an easily curable oversight, and Scherer said in court Wednesday that all jurors were sworn in in the briefing room before being escorted to the courtroom.
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