Prosecutors in the case of Nikolas Cruz are pushing for a probe after a juror claimed she felt threatened by another member of the panel as they mulled whether or not to spare the Parkland school shooter’s life.
A motion filed in Broward County Court in Florida on Friday calls for law enforcement to interview the unnamed juror, who alerted officials to what “she perceived to be a threat from a fellow juror while in the jury room.” No further details were provided.
“The court has a duty to investigate this allegation,” according to the filing, calling it a “potential crime.”
The request comes a day after jurors, a panel made up of five men and seven women, were left divided over whether Cruz should be executed for the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the worst shooting to ever unfold at a high school in the United States. The gunman by default was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole because, under Florida state law, all decisions on capital punishment must be unanimous.
The 12-person jury did unanimously agree there were aggravating factors to warrant a death sentence — like that the murders were “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel” — but one or more jurors also found mitigating factors, such as untreated childhood problems, outweighed them.
Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told local reporters that three jurors voted for life on the final ballot. Two were willing to reconsider, but one was a “hard no” for the death penalty.
“It really came down to a specific (juror) that he believed (Cruz) was mentally ill,” Thomas said.
Cruz previously confessed to storming the school with an AR-15 rifle and shooting 14 students and three staff members. He pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in connection with carnage that occurred on Feb. 14, 2018.
The filing is latest example of the turmoil that unfolded during the sentencing phase of Cruz’s legal proceedings.
In a handwritten letter to Judge Elizabeth Scherer, Juror Denise Cunha alleged that she was the lone holdout when it came to executing Cruz. She emphasized that she fulfilled her civic duty and denied that she’d already decided against the death penalty before the start of the trial.
She wrote that the deliberations were “tense,” and that some “became extremely unhappy once I mentioned that I would vote for life.”
It’s not clear if Cunha is the same person who reported the threat to the state attorney’s office.
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