Prosecutors recounted the deadly rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in harrowing detail on Monday, as the gunman’s sentencing trial began more than four years after 17 people were killed during a 2018 shooting at the Parkland, Fla., school.
“I’m going to speak to you about the unspeakable, about this defendant’s goal-directed, planned, systematic murder—mass murder—of 14 children, an athletic director, a teacher, and a coach,” lead prosecutor Michael Satz told jurors on Monday, describing the gunman as “cold, calculated, manipulative, and deadly.”
Nikolas Cruz (23) pleaded guilty in 2013 to 17 counts first-degree murder. The trial will see a jury of twelve decide whether the defendant should be executed or sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. In order for him to receive the death penalty, the jury’s decision must be unanimous.
Continue reading: The Parkland Gunman’s Sentencing Trial Will Decide If He Gets the Death Penalty
In a crowded courtroom on Monday, Satz rehashed the timeline of events on Feb. 14, 2018, from when Cruz arrived at the school with an AR-15-style rifle and warned a student that “something bad is about to happen,” through when he began firing at students in hallways and classrooms, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others.
Seated in court, victims’ family members shook their heads and wiped away tears as Satz named each victim, described where they were killed and how many times they were shot.
“The murders—all 17—were heinous, atrocious, and cruel,” Satz said. “All 17 were cold, calculated, and premeditated.”
Cruz’s defense attorneys declined to make an opening statement Monday. Instead, they will open their cases after the prosecutors have made their case. They’re expected to argue that Cruz struggled with mental health issues, and to focus on mental illness as a mitigating factor in arguing that he should not be executed.
Under Florida law, there are 16 “aggravating factors” that increase the severity of a crime and make a defendant eligible for the death penalty. To rule in favor the death penalty the jury must agree unanimously that at least one aggravating element was proven beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecutors. The defense can show evidence of mitigating circumstances. These could be mental health problems or trauma from childhood.
Prosecutors plan to argue that there were seven aggravating factors in this case, including that Cruz “knowingly created great risk of death to many people”; that the murders were “cold, calculated, and premeditated”; that they were “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel”; and that they were done to “disrupt or hinder a governmental function,” such as a public-school education.
“These aggravating factors far outweigh any mitigating circumstances, anything about the defendant’s background, anything about his childhood, anything about his schooling, anything about his mental health,” Satz said.
Gun-safety laws that would prevent school shootings in the future were demanded after the Parkland attack. The sentencing court comes after 21 were killed in a school shooting at Robb Elementary School, Uvalde Texas.
For shooting survivors and victims’ family members, the recent spate of mass shootings and the start of this trial have been stark reminders of the devastating threat of gun violence.
Fred Guttenberg was there last week to celebrate President Joe Biden’s passage of some of the most important gun-safety laws in decades. But on Monday, he was in the courtroom reliving his daughter’s death.
“Today, I am at the Courthouse for the start of the penalty phase of the criminal trial of the person who murdered my daughter with an AR 15,” he said in a tweet. “This is the reality of gun violence.”
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