Nikolas Cruz: Parkland shooter was ‘cold, calculative, manipulative and deadly,’ prosecutors say in death penalty trial

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Cruz, now 23, was “cold, calculative, manipulative and deadly” in his attack, which lasted just over six minutes, said prosecutor Michael Satz. Three days before the shooting, he spoke into his cellphone camera and declared, “Hello, my name is Nik. I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018,” according to Satz.

On February 14, 2018, Cruz took an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, walked inside and fatally shot teenage students in the hallway, fired into several classrooms and shot three adults who were trying to protect students from the carnage, the prosecutor said.

The gunman also retraced his steps and shot several of his victims repeatedly. One victim, 14-year-old Peter Wang, was shot 13 times, Satz said.

Cruz then dropped his rifle and left the school, blending in with the fleeing crowd. He went to a Subway to get an Icee — even leaving a tip — and drank it on a bench, Satz said. He was arrested by an officer on a street about three miles from the school just over an hour after the shooting.

The opening statements mark the start of the penalty phase of Cruz’s criminal trial and come months after he pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Prosecutors have asked a panel of 22 people — 12 jurors and 10 alternates — to sentence Cruz to death, while his defense attorneys have asked for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The trial, which is likely to last months, will delve more deeply into Cruz’s personal history and accounts from the massacre. Families of the victims and those who were wounded are expected to offer victim impact statements.

Satz said Monday there were seven aggravating factors in the killing weighing in favor of the death penalty, including that the attack disrupted a government function (i.e. school) and that the killings were “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.”

“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, anything about his therapy, anything about his care,” Satz said.

The defense elected to delay its opening statements until later in the trial. In court, Cruz sat silently during the proceedings, wearing large glasses, a black face mask, a collared shirt and a sweater. Several family members of the victims in attendance held their heads in their hands as they listened to the prosecution’s disturbing timeline of events.

The Parkland massacre launched the student-led movement March For Our Lives, which has pushed for gun safety legislation across the country. Still, the US remains gripped by a gun violence epidemic, with more than 350 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks the incidents in which four or more people are shot, excluding the shooter.
There was the racist attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in mid-May, followed soon after by the massacre of elementary school students and teachers in Uvalde, Texas. And just this month, a gunman opened fire at a July Fourth parade in a Chicago suburb, killing seven people and wounding dozens.

A fraught jury selection process

The opening statements come after the court spent weeks whittling down a pool of hundreds of potential jurors, working to determine who could commit the time to serve and probing their thoughts on the case and whether they could be fair.

Of the 12 jurors, seven are men and five are women. Nine alternates are women, and one is a man.

Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to murder charges and apologizes for Parkland high school massacre
Several weeks after jury selection began, the process was disrupted when bailiffs on April 27 restrained Cruz against a wall to protect him from people “making a threat,” Scherer told Cruz’s attorney. A potential juror was “mouthing expletives” at Cruz, prompting other jurors to become “belligerent,” said the judge, who dismissed the rest of the prospective jurors who were in the room.
In another instance, about a dozen potential jurors were dismissed when one of them wore a T-shirt referencing the shooting, CNN affiliate WPLG reported. One of Cruz’s attorneys took issue with the shirt, which bore Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ official colors of silver and burgundy and read, “Teacher Strong #neveragain #msdstrong.”

“She obviously did that on purpose to get out of jury selection,” the judge said, according to the TV station. Scherer dismissed the rest of the panel.

During jury selection, Cruz’s defense attorneys asked the court for a delay, arguing the “wave of emotion” triggered by a spate of recent shootings would undermine his right to a fair trial, court records show. But state Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the motion, saying shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde had not compromised court proceedings or Cruz’s ability to get a fair trial.

What happens in a trial’s penalty phase

Cruz now faces a jury because a defendant in Florida deemed guilty of a capital offense undergoes a separate phase of court proceedings to determine the sentence. In the penalty phase, the court reviews the case and the defendant’s history to decide whether he or she deserves death or a lesser sentence like life in prison.

The court generally will hear reasons why the defendant should or should not be put to death, known as aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances, respectively.

Here's why the Parkland shooter is facing a jury even though he has already pleaded guilty

In Cruz’s case, the jury must be unanimous in finding beyond a reasonable doubt at least one aggravating factor exists. If it happens, jurors must then be unanimous in recommending the defendant be put to death, or his sentence would default to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If they recommend death, the judge could choose to follow the recommendation or sentence Cruz to life instead.

The penalty phase could include jurors visiting the scene of the mass shooting, according to court documents. Judge Scherer wrote a visit would allow the jurors to analyze “several of the aggravators” the state seeks to prove, the documents show.

The building remains intact but has been sealed for the last four years, WPLG has reported.
Fourteen of those killed were students: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 14.

Geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35; wrestling coach Chris Hixon, 49; and assistant football coach Aaron Feis, 37, also were killed — each while running toward danger or trying to help students to safety.

CNN’s Alta Spells contributed to this report.



Source : CNN