Parkland school killer’s sentencing trial finally begins. 5 key things to know

FORT LAUDERDALE — Jurors on Monday will lastly start out hearing proof towards Nikolas Cruz, additional than four decades following the scrawny former scholar murdered 17 college students and staffers and wounded 17 other individuals in a rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Large in Parkland.

The 12-human being jury will not have to determine irrespective of whether Cruz, now 23, is guilty in what was Florida’s deadliest university capturing on Feb. 14, 2018. He pleaded responsible to all of the counts of initial-diploma murder and tried murder past fall, placing the phase for this month’s “penalty phase” trial. Jurors will only decide whether or not Cruz should be executed for his crimes — or be sent to prison for lifetime.

Listed here are five essential items to know about Cruz’s demo.

Why did it get so lengthy to get a jury?

Just after Cruz was arrested the working day of the shooting, the case was assigned to Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who hadn’t presided above a demise-penalty scenario, permit by itself one particular of these types of magnitude and complexity. She has prolonged pushed lawyers for a trial date, but the circumstance grew to become drawn out about plan scheduling challenges, the sheer number of witnesses and objects of evidence, the securing of skilled witnesses, not to point out delays induced by the global coronavirus pandemic. Jury assortment last but not least commenced in April, a cumbersome procedure marked by suits and starts off.

Above 1,000 jury candidates were screened. Lots of only could not go away their work, or their family members, for the months of trial. Some reported said they knew too significantly about the circumstance and could not be neutral. Other folks did not believe in the death penalty.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is shown at the defense table during jury selection in the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 28.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas Substantial Faculty shooter Nikolas Cruz is revealed at the protection table through jury assortment in the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 28. [ AMY BETH BENNETT | AP ]

Early in the system, Decide Scherer drew protests from the defense and prosecutors soon after dismissing 11 jurors with out enabling them to be questioned. That led prosecutors to check with that 243 jurors who created it through the very first spherical of jury collection be stricken, tossing out two months of perform. Scherer later on reversed course, and most of these jurors were being later introduced back again for questioning.

There were being other issues as very well. Deputies experienced to encompass Cruz just one day in April immediately after one jury prospect mouthed curse text at the defendant, producing a commotion in court docket. Towards the stop of Might, attorneys found a single candidate, a 58-yr-previous higher faculty trainer, was donning a T-shirt honoring the victims of the massacre — main to the dismissal of an entire team of prospective jurors.

There ended up also various delays since of COVID-19 or undisclosed ailments. At 1 issue, the defense crew requested to withdraw from the circumstance after the judge refused to hold off jury range for the reason that of an attorney’s sickness. The motion was denied.

Who are the jurors?

In the end, legal professionals agreed to a five-woman, seven-person jury, all inhabitants of Broward County. Among the their professions: librarian, legal assistant, probation officer, laptop or computer technician and healthcare claims adjuster.

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There are also 10 alternate jurors. They may perhaps be known as upon to deliberate if a juror has to be dismissed for some motive. No person on the jury has been told if they are an alternate or aspect of the team that will deliberate.

To sentence Cruz to loss of life below Florida regulation, jurors will have to be unanimous in their selection. If a jury vote is tied or jurors are deadlocked — with even a single holdout — Cruz will routinely get sentenced to everyday living in jail.

What will the jurors hear and see?

Eyewitnesses and survivors will explain the terror: the ear-splitting gunshots, the screams of students, the life minimize down inside the freshman setting up.

Surveillance video might display the teenage gunman, armed with a highly effective AR-15 rifle, methodically mowing down his victims. Detectives will communicate about how law enforcement captured — and bought a confession — from the former student recognized for his emotional outbursts, fixation on violence and troubling habits.

Prosecutors are hoping to verify “aggravating factors” that make this circumstance deserving of the death penalty. They include the “heinous, atrocious and cruel” mother nature of the massacre and the calculating way Cruz planned and executed the assault on the faculty.

To establish their circumstance, prosecutors will have a good deal of proof: Cruz recorded video clips, right before the attack, giddily describing his strategies and the carnage to appear. And proof will be proven that Cruz shot his victims, then shot them again as they lay bleeding on the floor. Jurors may well even be taken to the Parkland superior college alone, to trace Cruz’s murderous path through the freshman constructing.

Protection lawyers have asked to retain jurors from observing lots of of the most graphic criminal offense-scene photos. Choose Scherer has said she will address all those problems on a circumstance-by-scenario basis for the duration of the demo.

To send out Cruz to Demise Row, jurors will have to come across the aggravating components outweigh the “mitigating” aspects. Amid those people components protection lawyers have detailed: psychological-overall health ailments, brain harm caused by his mother’s drug and alcoholic beverages use, and statements that he was bullied and sexually abused by a “trusted peer.”

How prolonged will the demo very last?

The trial could last among 4 and six months. A crew of prosecutors, led by former State Lawyer Mike Satz, will existing their case very first. Their original circumstance would previous about a few months, according to court paperwork.

The Broward Public Defender’s Business, led by direct legal professional Melisa McNeill, will go afterward. In accordance to courtroom documents, the defense circumstance could start around Aug. 22.

(The defense on Thursday asked the choose to hold off the proceedings for 45 days just after the point out finishes its initial circumstance, mainly because of an unforeseen health issues to a essential professional witness on liquor fetal syndrome. A new skilled has been retained and requires to get up to velocity. The judge’s decision is pending.)

The point out can then current a rebuttal situation ahead of closing arguments and jury deliberations.

How to enjoy

Gavel-to-gavel coverage — such as opening statements, testimony and closing arguments — will be broadcast dwell on Court TV’s website and community television stations, these types of as WPLG-10.

The public won’t see the most graphic pictures and films. Choose Scherer is restricting what visuals will show up on screens in the courtroom. Reporters will be capable to perspective, but not record, the pictures and movies that are shielded from the public. As all trials in Florida, the courtroom is also open to the community and family members and mates of victims are anticipated to attend. The Broward Judicial Intricate is located at 201 SE Sixth St., Ft. Lauderdale. The demo will be held on the 17th floor, and there is a secondary safety screening to enter.

David Ovalle addresses criminal offense and courts in Miami. A indigenous of San Diego, he graduated from the College of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.