Jury selection for the penalty phase of the trial for Nikolas Cruz began this week. Cruz pleaded guilty in October to killing 17 people and wounding 17 others inside Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School in February 2018.
The jury will decide whether to sentence Cruz, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, to life in prison without the possibility of parole or to death. A death verdict will require a unanimous jury.
Until March 2017, Florida allowed trial judges to impose a death sentence when a jury’s decision wasn’t unanimous, but after the Florida Supreme Court found that practice unconstitutional in 2016, the legislature adopted a new sentencing law in 2017 requiring a unanimous jury recommendation.
Once a jury is seated, the penalty phase is expected to take several months, engendering great expense and prolonging the agony of everyone involved.
Last month, the Department of Justice announced it had settled all 40 civil cases filed by survivors and families of the victims for $127.5 million. The families’ lawsuit accused the FBI of negligence, saying the agency ignored tips they had received that indicated Cruz had been storing weapons and expressing his intent to shoot up a school prior to the killings.