FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—Suspect of the 2018 murder of 17 people at a Florida high school is finally on trial—but not for the murders.
Jury selection begins Monday on the charges that Nicolas Cruz assaulted a Broward County Jail guard, nine months after the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student, disputes with Sgt. Raymond Beltran was jailed for killing 14 students and three members of staff and injuring 17 others. No date has been set for the murder trial, which has been delayed by the pandemic and arguments over witnesses and evidence. It could start in the next few months.
“The accused killer who took the lives of our children is clearly violent and took him under guard. That needs to confront the justice system,” said Tony Montalto, president of Stand With Parkland, a group of victims’ families. His 14-year-old daughter, Gina, was killed in the shooting.
Cruz, 23, faces a possible 15-year sentence if he pleads guilty to attempted criminal battery on a law enforcement officer and three lesser charges. If Cruz is later convicted of first-degree murder, he would face either death or life in prison without parole, but the trial still has relevance. If Cruz is convicted of assaulting Beltrán, prosecutors could argue that this is a serious factor when they seek his execution during the penal phase of his murder trial if convicted.
“If it were recorded as a provoking factor, it would be hard not to be on the jury’s mind,” said Mark Dobson, a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Law School and former Florida prosecutor.
Prosecutors declined critical comment, saying only in a statement that “the prison video and the evidence in the case speak for themselves.”
Cruz’s public defenders declined to comment, saying they did not want to further upset the families of the shooting victims by discussing their client.
Cruz’s lawyers are expected to argue that Beltran previously abused Cruz and instigated the controversy on November 13, 2018, which took place inside the Broward County Jail recreation area and was captured on a soundless security video. was done.
According to court records, Cruise’s lead attorney, Melissa McNeil, complained to the Broward Sheriff’s Office about Beltran’s treatment of Cruz six weeks before the fight. No details of the alleged abuse have been released, but his lawyers said in a recent court hearing that Beltrán is the only guard he has ever complained about.
Cruz’s lawyers say the sheriff’s office erased three hours of video they spent with Cruz and Beltran before the fight — even though they asked within a day that it be preserved and were told it would.
The protected video starts a few minutes before the brawl. It shows Cruz walking alone in circles with his head around tables with attached benches. He is wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, a white long-sleeved undershirt and sandals. Beltran is sitting at a table in the corner.
Suddenly, Cruz stops about 10 feet from Beltran and the two appear to exchange words – Beltran tells investigators that he told Cruz to drag his feet and not damage his sandals.
Cruz flips both middle fingers at Beltran and then charges the guard, who stands up to defend himself. Cruz, who weighs about 130 pounds, throws the large Beltran to the ground before the guards can overturn and briefly pin him. Cruz grabs Beltran’s stun gun and they fight over it as it goes off, apparently with neither blow, before the guards give it away.
Cruz escaped from Beltrán’s grip and the two switched to boxing. Cruz punches Beltran in the shoulder, before the guard stabs Cruz in the head, stalking him.
Beltran then turns on his stun gun and points it at Cruz, who was sitting on a bench. Cruz lay face down on the ground and was handcuffed. The fight lasted almost exactly a minute. Neither was seriously injured.
Because of Cruz’s notoriety in South Florida, the jury’s selection is set to last three days—a typical prison battery trial with a defendant that the public doesn’t know could take hours. The court plans to screen 400 people for six jury members and alternate seating. According to The Florida Bar, the typical pool for prison battery trials and similar felonies is 22.
Cruz’s lawyers would like to eliminate any candidates who cannot separate their knowledge of the Stoneman Douglas murder case from the only considerations that jurors are about to have during this trial: did Cruz attack Beltran and if So, were they provoked? Testimony about the murders will not be allowed as it is irrelevant to the charge of assault and would be counterproductive.
Once the jury is selected, the remaining trial is expected to last only one to three days.
The murder trial is expected to last for months. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Shire has been holding continuing hearings in recent weeks to consider issues that must be resolved before they begin.
“The wheels of justice grind slowly and this is especially true with our group of families,” Montalto said.
Cruz’s lawyers have said he would plead guilty to 17 murders in return for a life sentence. Prosecutors rejected the motion, saying it was a case that deserved the death penalty.
by Terry Spencer
This News Originally From – The Epoch Times