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Judge Reverses Decision To Scrap Panel Of Jurors In Nikolas Cruz Penalty Trial

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/AP)  - On Wednesday, Judge Elizabeth Scherer reversed her decision to scrap a panel of jurors that had already been prescreened.

Defense attorneys for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz made their case before the judge as to why more than 200 dismissed potential jurors for the penalty trial should be brought back.

On Monday, Judge Scherer started the jury selection process from scratch after prosecutors and defense attorneys argued that she made a mistake when she didn't question 11 potential jurors who said they would not follow the law before she dismissed them two weeks ago.

Defense attorneys argued they should have been given a chance to question them.

Those 11 jurors were supposed to return on Monday but because of a miscommunication, they were never notified to come back to court.

"I guess that there might be a difference of opinion on 10 jurors who unequivocally said that they can not and will not follow the law no matter what it is. Whether or not an appeals court is going to find that is a reversible error, I highly doubt it, in fact, I put a 95 percent chance they will not," said Judge Scherer on Tuesday.

On Monday, in granting the motion filed by prosecutors, she nullified two weeks of work by prosecution and defense lawyers, dismissing the approximately 250 potential jurors.

The defense, however, did not want to lose that pool of potential jurors previously selected. On Wednesday, they made their arguments before the judge in an effort to get her to change her mind.

READ: Defense Motion Opposing Striking Of Jury Panel

On Tuesday, Judge Scherer dismissed a panel of potential jurors because of something overheard by a Broward sheriff's deputy.

A member of a jury pool mouthed possible threats toward him and caused others to become "excited," leading them to fear a potential brawl. One person reportedly turned around as if he wanted to charge Cruz. Deputies protecting Cruz had to pull him aside and surround him.

"The sheriff's office observed all of that and determined they needed to protect Mr. Cruz," Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said.

"One instigates and then there are many followers," explained Broward Sheriff's Capt. Osvaldo Tianga, the head of courthouse security.

Melisa McNeill, Cruz's lead public defender, told Scherer she understands that the deputies' first priority is to protect Cruz and everyone in the courtroom but didn't realize that would require him being physically moved.

"I appreciate that is the job. I am not challenging" their actions, McNeill said. But she wondered if the deputies could simply stand between Cruz and the threat if something similar happens again.

Tianga said each situation is different, but he would consider her suggestion.

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to murdering 17 and wounding 17 at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.

The 12-member jury that will be selected after a two-month, three-step winnowing process will decide if he is sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Monday's restart pushes back opening statements from their scheduled date of mid-June. They had already been delayed from May 31.

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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