FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (AP) – Prosecutors in the Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz case are calling for an investigation after a juror said she felt threatened by another juror during deliberations that ended Thursday with a life sentence for the murder of cruz. 17 people.
The motion calls on law enforcement officers to interview the unnamed juror after she told the prosecutor’s office that she “considered a threat to a fellow juror while in the jury room.” Further details were not given. There will be a hearing on Friday afternoon.
A divided jury spared Cruz the death penalty and instead decided to send him to prison for the rest of his life, a decision that left many of the victims’ families angry, bewildered and in tears. Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty a year ago to murdering 14 students and three staff members and injuring 17 others, at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018.
Under Florida law, a death sentence requires a unanimous vote on at least one count. The jury of seven men and five women unanimously agreed that there were aggravating factors that justified a possible death penalty, such as agreeing that the murders were “particularly heinous, horrific or 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 gets life without parole. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer will formally pronounce the life sentences on Nov. 1. Relatives and the injured students and teachers Cruz are given the floor.
The jurors promised during the selection process that they could vote for a death sentence, but the parents of some of the victims, some of whom attended the trial almost daily, questioned whether they were all fair.
Juror Denise Cunha sent a short handwritten note to the judge on Thursday defending her vote for a life sentence and denying that she intended to vote that way before the trial began.
“The deliberations were very tense and some jurors became extremely unhappy when I said I would vote for life,” Cunha wrote. She has not explained her vote and it is not known whether she is the juror who has lodged a complaint with the prosecutor’s office.
Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told local reporters that three jurors voted for life in the final ballot. Two were willing to reconsider, but one was a “hard no” for the death penalty.
“It really came down to one specific (juror) that he (Cruz) was mentally ill,” Thomas said. He didn’t say if that person was Cunha.
Izaguirre reported from Tallahassee, Florida.
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