FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Prosecutors in the Florida school shooter’s case are investigating after a juror said he felt threatened by another juror during a trial that ended Thursday in Cruz’s murder. they call
The request calls for law enforcement to interview the unidentified juror after she told state prosecutors that “she felt threatened by a fellow juror while in the jury room.” No further details were given. The hearing is scheduled for Friday afternoon.
A divided jury spared Cruz the death penalty and instead decided to send him to prison for the rest of his life, leaving many of the victims’ families angry, shocked and in tears. Cruz, 24, was convicted a year ago of killing 14 students and three school staff members and injuring 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Florida criminal defense attorneys Richard Escobar and David Weinstein, both former prosecutors, said even if a threat had been made, the jury’s verdict could not be overturned because of double jeopardy, or the same defendant being tried twice for the same crime.
Weinstein pointed to a 1990s case involving two drug kingpins who bribed jurors and were acquitted. Even then, prosecutors were unable to retry the two men for drug trafficking, but convicted them on bribery charges.
Under Florida law, the death penalty must require at least one unanimous vote. The jury of 12 unanimously agreed that there were aggravating factors for a possible death sentence, agreeing, for example, that the murders were “especially heinous, atrocious and cruel.”
But one or more jurors also found mitigating factors, such as untreated childhood problems. In the end, the jury could not agree that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors, so Cruz will be denied parole. District Judge Elizabeth Scherer will formally impose the life sentence on November 1. Relatives of injured Cruz, along with students and teachers, will be given the opportunity to speak.
Jurors promised during the selection process that they could vote for the death penalty, but parents of some of the victims, who attended the trial almost every day, wondered if they were all being honest.
Juror Denise Cunha sent a short handwritten note to the judge Thursday defending her vote for the life sentence and denying that she intended to vote before the trial began.
“The deliberations were very tense and some of the jurors were very upset when I said I was voting for life,” Cunha wrote. He did not explain his vote, and it is not clear whether he is a juror, who appealed to state prosecutors.
Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told local reporters that three jurors voted for life on final ballots. Two were willing to reconsider, but one was “not strong” for the death penalty.
“It actually became clear to one person that he (Cruz) was mentally ill,” Thomas said. He did not say whether the person was Cunha or not.
Izaguirre reported from Tallahassee, Florida.