Nikolas Cruz: Parkland shooter was ‘cold, calculating, manipulative and deadly’, prosecutors say in death penalty trial

Cruz, now 23, was “cold, calculating, manipulative and murderous” during his attack, which lasted just over six minutes, prosecutor Michael Satz said. Three days before filming, he spoke into his cellphone camera and said, “Hello, my name is Nik. I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018,” according to Satz.

The opening statements mark the start of the penalty phase of Cruz’s criminal trial and come months after he pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Prosecutors have asked a 22-person panel — 12 jurors and 10 alternates — to sentence Cruz to death, while his attorneys have asked for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

The trial, which is expected to last for months, will delve into Cruz’s personal story and feature testimonies from the families of the victims and those injured in the massacre.

The prosecution began their opening statements with a detailed timeline of the attack. On February 14, 2018, Cruz took an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, drove inside and killed teenage students in the hallway, fired into several classrooms and shot three adults who were trying to protect students from carnage, Satz said.

The shooter also retraced his steps and shot several of his victims multiple times. One victim, Peter Wang, 14, was shot with 13 bullets, Satz said.

In all, Cruz fired 139 shots inside the school, including 70 on the first floor, two in the stairwell, six on the second floor and 61 on the third floor, according to Satz.

Cruz then dropped his rifle and left the school, blending into the fleeing crowd. He went to a subway to get an Icee — even leaving a tip — and drank it on a bench, Satz said. He was spotted by an officer and arrested about three miles from the school just over an hour after the shooting.

Satz said on Monday there were seven aggravating factors in the killing that weighed in favor of the death penalty, including that the attack disrupted a government function (i.e. a school) and that the killings were “particularly heinous, atrocious or cruel”.

“These aggravating factors far outweigh any mitigating circumstances, anything to do with the defendant’s background, anything to do with his childhood, anything to do with his education, anything to do with his mental health, anything to do with his about his therapy, anything about his care,” Satz said.

Satz also told jurors they would be shown surveillance video from inside the school showing the attack.

In court, Cruz sat silent during the proceedings, wearing large glasses, a black mask, a collared shirt and a sweater. Several relatives and relatives of the victims cried in court and at least one of them left the courtroom.

The defense chose to postpone its opening statements until later in the trial.

The Parkland massacre launched the March For Our Lives student movement, which lobbied for gun safety legislation across the country. Still, the United States continues to grapple with an epidemic of gun violence, with more than 350 mass shootings so far this year, according to Gun Violence Archive, which tracks incidents in which four or more people have been shot, excluding the shooter.
There was the racist attack on a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in mid-May, followed shortly after by the massacre of elementary school students and teachers in Uvalde, Texas. And this month, a gunman opened fire during a July 4 parade in a Chicago suburb, killing seven people and injuring dozens.

A busy jury selection process

The opening statements come after the court spent weeks narrowing down a pool of hundreds of potential jurors, determining who might volunteer the time to serve and probing their thoughts on the case and whether they might be fair.

Of the 12 jurors, seven are men and five are women. Nine alternates are women and one is a man.

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Several weeks after jury selection began, the process was halted when bailiffs held Cruz against a wall on April 27 to protect him from people “making a threat,” Scherer told Cruz’s attorney. A potential juror was “swearing” at Cruz, prompting other jurors to become “belligerent,” said the judge, who dismissed the rest of the potential jurors who were in the room.
In another case, a dozen would-be jurors were fired when one wore a T-shirt referencing the shooting, CNN affiliate WPLG reported. One of Cruz’s attorneys took issue with the shirt, which bore Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ official colors of silver and burgundy and read, “Teacher Strong #never #msdstrong.”

“She obviously did it on purpose to evade jury selection,” the judge said, according to the broadcaster. Scherer dismissed the rest of the panel.

During jury selection, Cruz’s defense attorneys asked the court for a delay, arguing that the ‘surge of emotion’ sparked by a series of recent shootings would undermine his right to a fair trial, records show. judicial. But State Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the motion, saying the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings did not compromise court proceedings or Cruz’s ability to get a fair trial.

What happens in the penalty phase of a trial

Cruz now faces a jury because a Florida defendant convicted of a capital crime is undergoing a separate phase of court proceedings to determine sentencing. In the punishment phase, the court looks at the case and the history of the accused to decide whether he deserves death or a lesser sentence like life in prison.

The court will usually hear the reasons why the accused should or should not be put to death, called aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances, respectively.

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In Cruz’s case, the jury must be unanimous to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that there is at least one aggravating factor. If this happens, then the jurors must be unanimous in recommending that the accused be put to death, otherwise his sentence would default to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If they recommend death, the judge could choose to follow the recommendation or sentence Cruz to life instead.

The punishment phase could include jurors visiting the scene of the mass shooting, according to court documents. Judge Scherer wrote that a visit would allow jurors to analyze “several of the aggravators” the state is seeking to prove, according to the documents.

The building remains intact but has been sealed for the past four years, WPLG reported.
Fourteen of those killed were students: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14; Nicolas Dworet, 17; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Luc Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Olivier, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 14.

geography professor Scott Beigel, 35; wrestling coach Chris Hixon, 49; and assistant football coach Aaron Feis, 37, were also killed – each as they ran into danger or tried to help students to safety.

CNN’s Alta Spells and Carlos Suarez contributed to this report.

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