Deputies protecting Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz had to pull him aside and surround him Tuesday after a member of a jury pool mouthed possible threats and caused others to become “excited,” leading them to fear a potential brawl, the Associated Press reports. A 70-member pool of potential jurors was filing into the courtroom when one of the first to enter, a man in his 30s, began “mouthing expletives” toward Cruz, Judge Elizabeth Scherer said. Cruz, 23, is facing a possible death sentence for murdering 17 at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. Bailiffs moved in to remove the man, who shook his head vigorously and muttered “that’s horrible” repeatedly as he walked past reporters. Other jurors became “excited” and were saying something that could not be heard, Scherer said. The first man then started looking back over his shoulder toward Cruz.
The half-dozen armed deputies who always stand just behind Cruz grabbed and surrounded him, fearing that the first juror was about to run toward them and would be joined by others. "The sheriff’s office observed all of that and determined they needed to protect Mr. Cruz,” Scherer said. 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 to be physically moved. “I appreciate that is the job. I am not challenging” their actions, McNeill said. She wondered if the deputies could simply stand between Cruz and the threat if something similar happens again. Cruz pleaded guilty in October. A 12-member, eight-alternate jury is being selected in a two-month, three-step process to decide whether he receives a death sentence or life in prison without parole. Some 1,800 jurors have come through the courtroom since the process began April 4.