Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Prosecutor in Parkland shooter trial pleads for execution

Warning: this article includes descriptions of violence.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. ( Associated Press) — The prosecutor seeking the death penalty for the gunman who massacred 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school detailed to a jury Monday how Nikolas Cruz coldly gunned down his victims and returned some as they lay wounded. to finish them off with a second volley.

Some parents wept as prosecutor Mike Satz described in his opening statement how Cruz killed their children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. Others sat stoically, arms crossed over their chests. A woman who lost her daughter ran from the courtroom, sobbing and holding a handkerchief to her face.

Satz’s comments came at the start of the trial to determine whether Cruz is executed or is serving life in prison without parole.

The prosecutor’s presentation touched on how Cruz shot each of the 14 students and three staff members who were killed and some of the 17 who were injured. Some were shot sitting at their desks, others as they fled, and others as they lay bleeding on the floor as Cruz methodically stalked through a three-story building for nearly seven minutes with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to murder and attempted murder and is only contesting his sentence. The trial, expected to last four months, was supposed to start in 2020 but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and legal fights.

READ MORE: Survivor of 2018 Parkland school attack speaks out on recent spate of mass shootings

Satz called the killings cold, calculated, cruel and heinous, citing the video Cruz, then 19, made three days before the shooting.

“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 AR-15 and some tracer rounds. It’s going to be a big 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,’” Satz said.

Among the first witnesses was Danielle Gilbert, a junior who was in psychology class when the shooting began. The teacher told the students to stand behind her desk.

“We were sitting like sitting ducks. We had no way to protect ourselves,” said Gilbert, who is now a student at the University of Central Florida. Four people were shot in that room, he said, including one who died.

Cell phone video clips that Gilbert took from inside the classroom were shown to the jury, and the audio included multiple gunshots as a fire alarm sounded. An injured child could be heard crying, “Somebody help me.”

When Gilbert left, she broke down sobbing. Her father put his arm around her and led her out of the courtroom.

Prosecutors also presented cellphone video from another student showing classmates crouching behind chairs as Cruz fired through the classroom door window, the blows echoing above the screams. A woman in the back of the courtroom yelled at prosecutors to turn off the television before the bailiffs asked her to be quiet.

The jury of seven men and five women is backed by 10 alternates. It is the deadliest mass shooting in the nation before a jury.

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.

READ MORE: Parkland Victim’s Father Climbs Crane Near White House to Boost Gun Violence Prevention

It was unclear if anyone was in the courtroom to support Cruz, who sat at the defense table between his attorneys. Most of the time she looked at a pad of paper with a pencil in her hand, but she didn’t seem to write. She would sometimes look up at Satz or the jury, look at the audience or whisper something to her lawyers.

After Satz spoke, Cruz’s attorneys announced that they would not give their opening statement until it was time to present their case in a few weeks. That’s a rare and risky strategy because it gives Satz the only word before jurors examine lurid evidence and hear testimony from survivors and victims’ parents and spouses.

When lead advocate Melisa McNeill gives her statement, she is likely to emphasize that Cruz is a young adult with lifelong emotional and psychological problems who allegedly suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and abuse.

It is the first death penalty trial for Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer. When jurors finally get the case in the 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 presented by the prosecution 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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