Parkland trial: Potential juror in penalty phase asks to be excused over ‘sugar daddy’

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Judges have probably heard jurors give reasons not to sit on a panel, particularly in a high-profile case. But a South Florida judge probably was shaking her head after hearing this one.

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On Monday, a potential juror told Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that commitments to her “sugar daddy” precluded her from sitting on the panel that will decide whether convicted Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison without parole or be put to death, the Sun-Sentinel reported. For the death penalty, the jury must be unanimous in its decision, WTVT-TV reported.

That juror was excused, by the way.

The task of seating 12 jurors and eight alternates for the sentencing trial of Cruz, now 23, who killed 17 students and staff members and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, could take several weeks. Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder, and 17 counts of attempted murder in October 2021, according to the Miami Herald.

“It will be a long and arduous process. It will be difficult to find jurors without an opinion,” retired Miami-Dade County senior prosecutor Gail Levine, who is not involved in the case, told the newspaper. “Remember, it’s OK to know about the case. But a juror cannot serve if they have already formulated an opinion about the penalty before the case is presented.”

“Please understand that although you may be familiar with the case, you will not be excused for that reason alone,” Scherer told the first group of 60 potential jurors on Monday, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

Several from the jury pool for the penalty phase were dismissed over health issues, their lack of command of the English language or because they had already paid for vacations, The Associated Press reported.

That is when one woman told the judge that several birthdays in July made it difficult to serve in the case, which could stretch from June until September.

“What are those dates,” Scherer asked in a video of the proceedings, according to WTVT.

“July seventh, July fourth, and July 18,” the woman said. “And again, I need to figure out something. I have my sugar daddy that I see every day.”

“I’m sorry?” Scherer asked.

“My sugar daddy,” the woman said again.

Scherer told the potential juror that she was “not exactly sure” what she was talking about.

“I’m married, and I have my sugar daddy,” the woman said for the third time. “I see him every day.”

“OK. All right,” Scherer said, according to the video. “Ma’am, we’ll come back to you, OK? Thank you.”

The woman was subsequently dismissed, along with more than 120 of the first 160 to appear before Scherer, WTVT reported.

The first two months of the trial are expected to be devoted to finding jurors, the Sun-Sentinel reported. About 1,000 potential jurors have been called for the first round of screening, according to the newspaper.

“I’m seeing double. I’ve seen a lot of people,” Scherer said at the end of Monday’s session, according to the AP.