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

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Three days before the shooting, Nikolas Cruz looked into his cell phone camera and stated, “Hi, my name is Nik. I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018,” Satz said.

The trial, which is likely to take months, will delve deeper into Cruz’s personal history and will include stories from the families of the victims and those who witnessed the massacre.

Satz said on Monday there were seven aggravating factors in the murder that weighed in favor of the death penalty, including that the attack disrupted a government function (i.e. school) and that the killings were “mainly gruesome, horrific or cruel”.

“These aggravating factors far outweigh any extenuating circumstances, everything about the suspect’s background, everything about his childhood, everything about his education, everything about his mental health, everything about his therapy, everything about his care,” Satz said.

The defense chose to postpone its opening statements until later in the trial.

Three witnesses who were at the school on the day of the shooting testified Monday about what happened on Valentine’s Day 2018, when Cruz used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 17 people and wound 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Their testimony was punctuated by audio from a teacher’s 911 call and disturbing mobile videos shot in the school that sparked emotional reactions in the courtroom.

In the courtroom, Cruz sat quietly during the proceedings, wearing large glasses, a black facemask, a collared shirt, and a sweater. Sometimes he would put his head in his hands and look down or rest his head on folded arms.

Nikolas Cruz looks down during the sentencing phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, July 18, 2022.
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 in the throes of an epidemic of gun violence, with more than 350 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks incidents of shooting four or more people, not counting the gunman.
In mid-May, there was the racist attack on a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, followed shortly after by the massacre of elementary school students and teachers in Uvalde, Texas. And just this month, a gunman opened fire during a July 4 parade in suburban Chicago, killing seven and injuring dozens.

Trial begins with detailed timeline

The prosecution began opening statements detailing the timeline of the attack. On Feb. 14, 2018, Cruz took an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, walked in and fatally shot teenage students in the hallway, fired into several classrooms and shot three adults trying to protect students from the massacre, Satz said.

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

In all, according to Satz, Cruz fired 139 shots into the school, including 70 on the first floor, two in the stairwell, six on the second floor and 61 on the third floor.

Cruz then dropped his gun and left the school, lost in 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 spotted by an officer and arrested about three miles from the school, just over an hour after the shooting.

Fourteen of the dead 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 pollock, 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, were also killed — each while running toward danger or trying to get students to safety.

Witnesses describe ‘incredibly loud’ gunshots

Brittany Sinitch, a teacher at Stoneman Douglas in 2018, was the prosecution’s first witness and said students were reading Romeo and Juliet and writing romantic poetry on Valentine’s Day when they heard gunshots in the hallway.

“They were incredibly loud,” she said. “Those who were outside my classroom, it’s like you could feel it in your body, through your whole chest.”

Nikolas Cruz Pleads Guilty To Murder And Apologizes For Parkland High School Massacre

Students made sure the door was closed, turned off the lights and hid in the corners of the room and behind Sinitch’s desk, she said. She called 911, but “they couldn’t hear me because of the sound of the gunshots,” she said. No one in her class was shot or injured. They remained hidden in the room until the police came and signaled them to evacuate.

Danielle Gilbert, then a student at Stoneman Douglas, hid in a classroom where three people were shot and one was killed. She took several videos of the shooting and the audio was played in court on Monday.

Gunshots can be heard in the harrowing audio, a person moans “someone help me”, and people can be heard crying and hyperventilating. After a few minutes, the police arrive at the room and treat the injured.

Dylan Kraemer, another student of Stoneman Douglas in 2018, said he was in class 1214 in a class titled “History of the Holocaust” when he heard gunshots. They hid in the corners of the room and behind a filing cabinet, but the gunman fired a shot through the classroom door window, killing two people inside.

The videos and audio caused trouble and emotional reactions from those in the courtroom.

At least three of the judges appeared to be uncomfortable while one video was playing.

Tony Montalto, the father of one of the 14 students killed that day, put in earplugs while the videos and audio played. The relatives of other victims could be seen hugging as the video played.

Another woman in tears and trembling was seen laying her head on her knees with her ears covered. Officers came to escort her out as she left visibly distraught.

During Kraemer’s testimony, video and audio of the attack were played, causing several family members in the courtroom to close their eyes and turn around. Montalto walked out of the courtroom. Someone in the courtroom could be heard yelling, “Shut it off!”

How the penalty phase works

A Florida suspect found guilty of a capital offense goes through a separate phase of the court proceedings to determine the sentence. In the sentencing phase, the court reviews the suspect’s case and history to decide whether he or she deserves death or a lesser sentence, such as life imprisonment.

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

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

Jury members can visit the scene of the mass shooting during the sentencing phase, according to court documents. Judge Scherer wrote that a visit would allow jurors to analyze “several of the annoyances” the state wants to prove, the documents show.

Here's Why The Parkland Shooter Faces A Jury Even Though He's Already Pleaded Guilty
The building remains intact, but has been sealed for the past four years, WPLG reports.

The court spent weeks narrowing a pool of hundreds of potential jurors to a group of 12 jurors and 10 deputies. Of the 12 judges, seven are men and five are women. Nine alternates are women and one is a man.

Several weeks after the jury selection began, the trial was disrupted when bailiffs held Cruz against a wall on April 27 to protect him from people who “posed a threat,” Scherer told Cruz’s attorney. A potential juror spoke out “squatting” at Cruz, prompting other jurors to become “combatant,” said the judge, who fired the rest of the prospective jurors present in the room.
In another case, about a dozen potential jurors were fired when one of them wore a T-shirt referring to the shooting, CNN affiliate WPLG reported. One of Cruz’s attorneys disagreed with the shirt, which wore Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ official silver and burgundy colors and read: “Teacher Strong #neveragain #msdstrong.”

“Of course she did that on purpose to get out of the jury selection,” the judge said, according to the TV channel. Scherer dismissed the rest of the panel.

During the jury selection, Cruz’s lawyers asked the court for a postponement, arguing that the “wave of emotion” caused 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 jeopardized court proceedings or his ability to get a fair trial.

Leyla Santiago, Alta Spells, Carlos Suarez and Sara Weisfeldt of CNN contributed to this report.

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