The trial to determine if Nikolas Cruz will be given the death penalty began today with the prosecution’s open arguments.
Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in connection to the 2018 mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The victims included 14 students and three teachers.
The televised trial is expected to last between four to six months.
Lawyers representing the now-23-year-old are seeking a sentence of life in prison while the state prosecution will advocate for the death penalty.
During his opening argument on July 18, state prosecutor Mike Satz described Cruz as “cold, calculative, manipulative and deadly.”
“I’m going to speak to you about the unspeakable,” Satz told the jurors who will determine Cruz’s sentence. “All 17 [murders] were heinous, atrocious and cruel… All 17 were cold, calculated, manipulative and deadly.”
Satz noted that Cruz fired 139 shots on Feb. 14, 2018 – 70 on the first floor of the high school, two in the west stairwell, six on the second floor, and 61 on the third floor.
“A cellphone video that was seen by the jury but only heard by the public in the courtroom gallery included many gunshots, an alarm going off, and many people screaming. Several people left the courtroom when they heard it,” reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
During a second video clip that included the sounds of heavy gunfire at a high volume, the family member of one of the victims yelled from the gallery, “Shut it off!”
Melisa McNeil, one of Cruz’s defense attorneys, then called for a mistrial. She claimed the incident would prejudice the jury against her client. Her motion was denied.
Satz recounted a timeline of Cruz’s activities before, during and after the shooting. He told the jury that there are seven aggravating factors that elevate Cruz’s crime to warrant capital punishment.
“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.
Former teachers and students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School testified during the trial’s first day, recounting the details of the shooting.
The jury did not hear an opening statement from Cruz’s defense team. The attorneys opted to delay their statement until they begin presenting their case in the following weeks.
“It wasn’t clear if anyone was present to support Cruz, who sat at the defense table between his attorneys. He mostly looked down at a pad of paper with a pencil in his hand, but he did not appear to write,” reports Fox News. “At times, he would look up to stare at Satz or the jury, peer at the audience or whisper to his lawyers.”
The trial is taking place in Fort Lauderdale at the Broward County Courthouse in front of Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer. This is Scherer’s first death penalty case. The jury consists of seven men and five women with 10 alternates.
At the end of the trial, the jury will vote 17 times — one for every victim — on whether or not Cruz should be sentenced to death. Each count must receive a unanimous vote for Cruz to be given a death sentence. If the jury breaks on any one of the charges, Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison for all 17 counts of murder.
The trial was scheduled to begin in 2020 but was delayed due to a series of legal challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic, and three months of jury selection.