Deputies protecting Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz had to pull him aside and surround him Tuesday after a member of a jury pool mouthed possible threats toward him and caused others to become "excited," leading them to fear a potential brawl, officials said. A 70-member pool of potential jurors was filing into the courtroom and taking their seats when one of the first to enter, a man in his 30s, began "mouthing expletives" toward Cruz, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said. Bailiffs moved in quickly to remove the man, who shook his head vigorously and muttered "that's horrible" repeatedly as he walked past reporters seated toward the back of the courtroom, the AP reports.
At this point, several other jurors became “excited” and were saying something that could not be heard, Scherer said. The first man then started looking back toward Cruz. The half-dozen armed deputies who always stand just behind Cruz then grabbed and surrounded him, fearing that the first juror was about to run toward them and would be joined by others. "The sheriff’s office observed all of that and determined they needed to protect Mr. Cruz," Scherer said. "One instigates and then there are many followers," explained Broward Sheriff's Capt. Osvaldo Tianga, the head of courthouse security.
Cruz, 23, is facing a possible death sentence for murdering 17 people—14 students and three staff members—at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. He pleaded guilty in October. A 12-member, eight-alternate jury is being selected in a two-month, three-step process to decide whether he receives a death sentence or life in prison without parole. One panel of 60 had to be dismissed on April 12 after eight became obviously emotional upon seeing Cruz, possibly influencing the others.
On Monday, Scherer announced she was dismissing 250 potential jurors who had passed initial screening because of a possible error she made and starting the selection process over. After Tuesday's incident, the judge dismissed the entire panel of 70 potential jurors. She said they became "belligerent" as they waited for the elevator to take them back to the lobby and "got mouthy" toward deputies. Scherer said deputies followed the group out of the courthouse to make sure they didn't say anything to prospective jurors waiting to be brought to her courtroom.
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