FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Jury selection began Wednesday in the trial of a former Florida sheriff’s deputy charged with failing to confront the shooter who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Parkland high school five years ago.
The first four dozen prospective jurors to be considered for Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson ‘s child neglect trial were brought into Circuit Judge Martin’s Fein’s courtroom at mid-morning. Fein, prosecutors and Peterson’s attorney will spend several days winnowing through hundreds of prospects until they find a pool of 50 who say they could serve for the two months the trial is expected to take.
From those 50, the attorneys will try next week to agree on a panel of six and four alternates to hear the case. Florida is one of six states that allow six-member juries for trials other than capital murder. The others are Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts and Utah. All other states use 12-member juries in felony trials.
Peterson, 60, remained outside a three-story classroom building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during Nikolas Cruz’s six-minute attack on Feb. 14, 2018.
He is charged with seven counts of felony child neglect for four students killed and three wounded on the 1200 building’s third floor. Peterson arrived at the building with his gun drawn 73 seconds before Cruz reached that floor, but instead of entering, he backed away as gunfire sounded.
He says he thought the shots were coming from outside the building, perhaps from a sniper. His attorney also argues that under Florida law, Peterson had no legal obligation to enter the building and confront Cruz.
Peterson is also charged with three counts of misdemeanor culpable negligence for the adults shot on the third floor, including a teacher and an adult student who died. He also faces a perjury charge for allegedly lying to investigators. He could get nearly a century in prison if convicted on the child neglect counts and lose his $104,000 annual pension.
Prosecutors did not charge Peterson in connection with the 11 killed and 13 wounded on the first floor before he arrived at the building. No one was shot on the second floor.
Peterson retired shortly after the shooting and was then fired retroactively.
Cruz pleaded guilty in 2021 to the killings. In a penalty trial last year, his jury couldn’t unanimously agree on whether he deserved the death penalty. The 24-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student was then sentenced to life in prison.