The sentencing phase of Nikolas Cruz’s trial for the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in 2018 was set to begin April 4. Opening statements were supposed to happen sometime in late May.
But now May is just about over, and none of that has happened. The entire process has been pushed back to mid-June and may take even longer. From problems with the judge, to the jury selection pool, to opinions on the death penalty, these issues continue to extend an already long and painful process.
As the trial has been extended, the families of those killed in Parkland, as well as those who were there that day, are suffering from the lack of closure. Might the same happen to the victims of the May 24 Uvalde, Texas shooting, the deadliest one since Marjory Stoneman Douglas?
“The fact that it’s taking so long is just a very slow ripping off of the band-aid,” said Sarah Lerner, a journalism teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. “When I step outside of my room I see that building every single day…it’s a constant reminder of what happened.”
On February 14, 2018, at around 2:20 p.m., Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in the 1200 building. He went on to kill 17 people and injure another 17.
Since 2018, those affected by the shooting have been waiting patiently for the trial in hopes of an end to this chapter, but since the beginning there were already issues.
The trial was originally set to begin Jan. 27, 2020 but was pushed back to 2021. Cruz pled guilty last October. Then came the penalty phase.
All eyes in South Florida are on the sentencing trial to see what will happen to Cruz. But people are growing impatient as Judge Elizabeth Scherer and attorneys can’t agree.
This is Scherer’s first capital case. Back in 2019, the defense filed for a motion to dismiss her from the case claiming they weren’t given enough time to prepare. Her inexperience has been on display multiple times throughout the case.
Back in mid-May, Scherer dismissed around 300 potential jurors, but thne changed her mind. When the defense asked for a mistrial, she responded by giving them five to 10 minutes to prepare it..
Liam Rooney, a Florida International University student and intern reporter at the Palm Beach Post, is working the case. He says he’s seen many people come into the courtroom showing how they feel about the case.
“ A woman entered the courtroom to be one of the potential jurors and from the moment she entered the court, she never broke eye contact with Nikolas Cruz,” Rooney said. “There’s a lot of people who have just have this look on their face when they see him….She was dismissed”
What the judge and attorneys need is an impartial jury that will be unbiased and willing to stay for the entire duration of the trial.
Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, has been studying the case and spoke about what type of jury is needed.
“The prosecution is looking for people who believe in law and order, people who don’t like when someone does the wrong thing, churchgoers or those who were in the armed forces,” said Jarvis. “The defense will be looking for people who believe the death penalty is barbaric.”
The latest to come from the trial is that questioning of the jurors continues. It took 4 hours on May 16 just to get through 3 potential jurors. The court is nowhere near close to finishing the process, though they push through trying to avoid further delays.
There is an air of tension surrounding this case as many sit idly watching what happens, but for others, such as Lerner, this case means an end to the suffering and the beginning of healing.
“I think that there will be some kind of closure like I think we will breathe a collective sigh of relief and they will feel like there’s some kind of catharsis that happens,” said Lerner. “I just want it all over with, I just want to be on the other side of it.”