Parkland High School Shooter’s Sentencing Trial Begins in Florida

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Nikolas Cruz faces the death penalty or life without parole for 2018 killing of 17 people

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“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,” said prosecutor Michael Satz, the former Broward County state attorney. He said that Mr. Cruz’s actions were “cold, calculated, manipulative and deadly.”

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Mr. Cruz’s lawyers held off on giving an opening statement, with the possibility of delivering it later in the trial.

Family members of victims looked on during proceedings in the courtroom in Fort Lauderdale, while Mr. Cruz—wearing a gray and blue sweater, checkered shirt and glasses—sat quietly, occasionally jotting notes.

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Mr. Cruz, 23 years old, pleaded guilty in October to the murders of 17 people and the attempted murders of 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The current jury trial, which is expected to last four to six months, will decide whether he is sentenced to death or given life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Before the start of opening statements, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer explained to jurors how they should weigh aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances in reaching their decision.

The 12-person jury, chosen in a three-month selection process, must reach a unanimous decision for Mr. Cruz to receive the death penalty. If it doesn’t, he will be sentenced to life in prison.

Mr. Satz began his opening statement by quoting Mr. Cruz’s remarks in a cellphone video recorded three days before the attack. “Hello, my name is Nick,” Mr. Satz said. “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.”

He then detailed, minute by minute, Mr. Cruz’s actions that day—how he donned a tactical vest loaded with ammunition, shot into classrooms through the windows of closed doors, and sometimes fired again at victims lying on the floor whom he had already shot. Mr. Satz said that when Mr. Cruz finished shooting, he fled, blending in with students who were evacuating. The gunman then went to a Subway fast-food restaurant and ordered an Icee, which he sat on a bench to drink, Mr. Satz said.

As he described the carnage, Mr. Satz named each of the victims Mr. Cruz killed or wounded. He recounted the scene that medical examiners found when they arrived at the school, with victims riddled with gunshot wounds, including some who were still alive but didn’t survive.

The prosecutor said seven aggravating factors applied to the case, including that the murders were “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel,” that they were “cold, calculated and premeditated” and that Mr. Cruz “knowingly created great risk of death to many people.”

“These aggravating factors far outweigh any mitigating circumstances,” including anything about Mr. Cruz’s childhood, schooling, mental health or therapy, Mr. Satz said.

A death-penalty trial for a mass shooter is unusual. Most such attackers have either killed themselves or been killed by police during their rampages.

Twenty of 178 mass shooters who killed four or more people in a public place since the 1960s have been sentenced to death, according to the Violence Project, a federally funded nonprofit that researches such shootings. Thirty-two of the 178 attackers have received prison sentences.

Write to Arian Campo-Flores at [email protected]


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