Topline

Prosecutors argued for the death penalty in the sentencing hearing for Nikolas Cruz, the gunman behind the 2018 mass shooting that killed 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in a round of opening statements on Monday.

Key Facts

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The attack—the largest school shooting in US history—was “planned” and “systematic,” Florida state attorney Michael Satz argued in his opening statements at a Florida courtroom in Fort Lauderdale.

Defense attorneys previously argued Cruz, who is now 23 years old, has shown signs of remorse for the shooting, which they argue should spare him the death penalty, after prosecutors repeatedly denied attempts to take the death penalty off the table.

Cruz, who pleaded guilty in April to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder, faces a minimum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Cruz must face trial for a sentencing, even though he pleaded guilty to the charges, according to Florida state law, meaning prosecutors do not have to prove he committed the crime, and jurors are only deciding whether he should face life in prison or the death penalty.

Prosecutors argued there were seven aggravating factors the jury must consider: that Cruz was convicted of a capital felony or a felony involving the use or threat of violence, he created risk of death to many people, that the murders were premeditated, “heinous, atrocious or cruel,” he disrupted a government facility, killed a public official and constituted a burglary.

Key Background

Cruz is a former US Army Junior ROTC cadet and former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he was a year before the shooting for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. On Feb. 14, 2018, he took a military-style AR-15 semi-automatic rifle into the school, assembled it in the bathroom and open-fired on his former classmates. He confessed the murders to police later that afternoon. In the days that followed, journal entries and YouTube posts of the gunman, as well as statements from people who knew him, revealed a portrait of a troubled 18-year-old who may have plotted the shooting for months. In one YouTube post released five months before the attack, a YouTube user with the screen name Nikolas Cruz said "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." The shooting re-sparked a nationwide gun reform movement, with survivors leading the charge and creating the advocacy groups March for Our Lives and Never Again MSD to lobby state lawmakers for gun control, which former Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law one month later.

Crucial Quotes

“Those words, those actions, killing 14 children, the athletic director, coach and a teacher, is why we're here today — cold, calculative, manipulative and deadly,” Satz said to conclude his opening statement.

Tangent

Choosing the 12-member jury was a three-month process that included more than 1,800 candidates and a decision in April by Circuit Judge Elizabeth A. Scherer to remove a 60-member panel of potential jurors after a series of emotional outbursts from candidates. Scherer said on Monday the court received a report that one of the five female jurors had discussed the case outside the courtroom, which the juror denied.

What To Watch For

The sentencing trial is expected to take up to four months. State attorneys argue "aggravating" factors should warrant the death penalty, while the defense argues "mitigating" factors, including signs of remorse.

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