Prosecutors defend death penalty request for Parkland school shooter
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jul 18 (EFE).- The sentencing phase of the trial of Nikolas Cruz, the confessed shooter who staged the 2018 massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, began on Monday with the prosecution calling for the death penalty for his “atrocious and cruel” massacre of 17 people.
It was a “heinous … cold, calculated” attack that Cruz had planned for months targeting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, lead prosecutor Michael Satz told the jury in his opening statement.
Satz provided a detailed account of the incident, which led some of the people attending the trial to leave the courtroom visibly emotional.
Many of the relatives of the 17 people killed – 14 teens and three adult school staffers – are attending the trial.
Outside the courtroom, “therapy dogs” had been made available to provide comfort to relatives of the victims. The students who died ranged in age from 14 to 18.
Sitting quietly at a table in the courtroom, Cruz, now 23, heard Satz describe him as a “cold, calculated, manipulative and deadly” assailant and made notes that he passed to members of his legal team, whispering to them occasionally but never raising his eyes.
The prosecutor said that this case has seven aggravating factors that justify the state’s demand that Cruz receive the death penalty, calling these factors solid enough to overturn any defense argument that Cruz was mentally unstable or that his childhood experiences could be mitigating factors in the jury’s determination of what sentence to impose.
One of those aggravating factors is the videotape Cruz made three days before the attack in which he said that he was going to be the next school shooter of 2018 and that he was intending to kill at least 20 people with an AR-15 assault rifle.
“It’s going to be a big event, and when you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am. You’re all going to die. Ah yeah, I can’t wait,” Cruz said in the video, which the prosecution showed during the hearing.
Satz laid out in detail in the courtroom presided over by Judge Elizabeth Scherer how many shots Cruz fired into the bodies of each of his victims, saying that the massacre – which also resulted in 17 people wounded – was premeditated.
In the seven minutes Cruz spent carrying out the attack, he fired 139 bullets, Satz told the 12-member jury – seven men and five women.
The defense, which has asked that Cruz be sentenced to life behind bars, did not present its opening argument to the jury on Monday, asking to be allowed to do so when it begins presenting its case, which could come in a few weeks.
The defense team, however, is expected to expand upon so-called mitigating factors in their attempt to secure a life behind bars sentence for their client, and those factors will include Cruz’s purported mental health issues, his upbringing and sexual abuse he allegedly suffered as a child.
The trial began after a long and complicated jury selection process that began in April and during which more than 1,800 prospective jurors were interviewed.
Starting today and over the next few months, the jury will examine evidence and hear arguments and witness testimony that will enable them to reach a verdict, although Cruz in 2021 admitted his guilt regarding the 34 charges filed against him: 17 for homicide and 17 for attempted murder.
State prosecutors for Broward County, which lies just north of Miami, have said since the massacre that they would seek the death penalty for the shooter, adding that they have not negotiated the matter with the defense, which is made up of public defenders.
All 12 jurors must agree that the death penalty is warranted, but if all do not agree then Cruz will receive a sentence of life in prison, although Scherer will have the final say in the sentencing.
In a written statement when he pleaded guilty, Cruz has said that he was very sorry for what he did and would have to live with his actions for the rest of his life. By admitting his guilt, the family members were spared the stress and trauma of a lengthy public trial that would have included testimony from at least 900 witnesses and the meticulous examination of millions of pages of documentation.
But for some of the victims’ family members, dozens of whom attended the court session, even the death penalty “would not be enough,” as Manuel Oliver, the father of Joaquin Oliver, told local WPLG television, an ABC affiliate, on the weekend.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed at the high school, went to the White House last week for President Joe Biden’s announcement of the passage of a gun safety bill and came to the court for the hearing.