The death penalty trial of the Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz begins on Monday with the jury hearing opening statements, followed by the first evidence about the shooting that took place in 2018 at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 14 students and three staff members lost their lives.
The panel will hear from lead prosecutor Mike Satz, who is expected to emphasise Cruz’s brutality as he stalked a three-story classroom building, firing his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle down hallways and into classrooms. The panel will be comprised of seven men and five women, and it will be backed up by ten alternates. Cruz would sometimes return back to the injured victims he had previously shot and finish them out with a second round of gunfire.
Cruz, 23, entered a guilty plea in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder; the only aspect of the charges against him that he is challenging is the possibility that he could be sentenced to death by the prosecution. For the shootings that occurred on February 14, 2018, the only possible sentences for him are the death penalty or life in prison without the chance of release. The court proceeding for the former Stoneman Douglas student, which was scheduled to begin in 2020 but was postponed because to the COVID-19 outbreak and legal battles, is projected to run around four months.
When asked when they would give their opening comments, the defence attorneys refused to specify whether it will be at the beginning of the trial or when they begin presenting their case weeks from now. This latter strategy would be extremely uncommon and risky due to the fact that it would give the prosecution the only opportunity to speak before the jurors examine the gruesome evidence and hear the heartbreaking testimony of those who survived the shooting as well as the parents and spouses of the victims.
If the lead defence attorney, Melisa McNeill, makes a statement, she will most likely emphasise the fact that Cruz is a young adult who has had lifelong emotional and psychological problems and who allegedly suffered from foetal alcohol syndrome and abuse. If she does so, she will likely say that these issues were caused by foetal alcohol syndrome. As the jurors listen to the prosecution’s case, the objective would be to keep their emotions in check so that they would be better able to weigh the defense’s arguments later on.
The massacre that took place in Parkland, Florida, is the worst incident in U.S. history to be brought to trial. Nine more shooters who were responsible for the deaths of at least 17 people took their own lives during or soon after their rampages or were murdered by police. The individual who is suspected of killing 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 is now awaiting trial.
Following the opening statements, which cannot exceed a total of ninety minutes each, the first witness for the prosecution will be questioned. They have not yet revealed who would fill that role.
Once for each of the 17 victims, the jury will vote on whether or not to suggest the death sentence when it finally receives the case this autumn. The jury will vote 17 times on whether or not to recommend the death penalty.
Every vote must to be unanimous; if even one of the victims receives a vote that is less than unanimous, Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison for that individual. It is explained to the members of the jury that in order for them to find that the aggravating circumstances that the prosecution has given for the victim in question “outweigh” the mitigating reasons that the defence has offered, they must vote in favour of the death sentence.
Any member of the jury has the option to cast a mercy vote for the life sentence, regardless of the evidence presented. When the panellists were being selected for the jury, they were required to swear under oath that they were capable of voting for either penalty.