Sunday, August 14, 2022

Florida high school shooter’s criminal trial begins

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. ( Associated Press) — The criminal trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz began Monday, the deadliest mass shooting in the United States before a jury.

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty last October to 17 counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of 14 students and three staff members at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, and is only contesting his sentence. Juries must decide whether she receives death or life without parole.

Lead prosecutor Mike Satz was expected to highlight Cruz’s brutality as he stalked a three-story classroom building, firing his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle through hallways and classrooms. Cruz would sometimes walk up to wounded victims and kill them with a second volley of gunfire.

“Cold, calculated, manipulative and deadly” is how Satz described him, describing a video Cruz made three days before the massacre.

“This is what the defendant said: ‘Hello, my name is Nik. I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018. My goal is at least 20 people with an AR15 and some tracer rounds. It’s going to be a great event and when you see me on the news you’ll know who I am. You all are going to die. Oh yeah, I can’t wait. Oh yeah, I can’t wait.’”

It was unclear if anyone other than his defense attorneys was there to support Cruz, who stopped scribbling and held his head in one hand as Satz described how he pulled out a vest loaded with extra ammunition and moved through the school, killing and hurting people on his way.

A panel of seven men and five women, backed by 10 alternates, is considering the fate of the former Stoneman Douglas student. It was expected to last about four months, the trial was supposed to start in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic and legal fights delayed it.

Defense attorneys did not say when they will deliver their arguments: at the start of the trial or when they will begin presenting their case in a few weeks. The latter strategy would be rare and risky because it would give the prosecution the only word before jurors examine lurid evidence and hear harrowing testimony from shooting survivors and victims’ parents and spouses.

The Parkland shooting on February 14, 2018 is the deadliest to come to trial in US history. Nine other gunmen who killed at least 17 people died during or immediately after the shootings, either by suicide or by police shooting. The suspect in the 2019 slaying of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, is awaiting trial.

After the openings, which are limited to 90 minutes each, the prosecutors’ first witness will be called. They haven’t said who it will be.

It is the first death penalty trial for Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer. When jurors finally get the case this fall, they will vote 17 times, once for each of the victims, to recommend capital punishment.

Each vote must be unanimous; a non-unanimous vote for any of the victims means that Cruz’s sentence for that person would be life in prison. Jurors are told that in order to vote for the death penalty, the aggravating circumstances that the prosecution has presented for the victim in question must, in their judgment, “outweigh” the mitigating factors presented by the defense.

Regardless of the evidence, any member of the jury can vote for life in prison for mercy. During jury selection, the panelists said under oath that they are able to vote for either sentence.

Nation World News Desk
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