Prosecutor recalls coldness and cruelty of Parkland shooter – Times News Online

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The prosecutor has sought the death penalty for the gunman who slaughtered 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Fla., detailed for jurors on Monday how Nikolas Cruz coldly mowed down his victims, returning to some as they were hurt to finish them off with a second end.

Some parents wept as prosecutor Mike Satz described in his opening statement how Cruz killed their children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. Others sat stoically with their arms folded across their chests. A woman who lost her daughter ran out of the courtroom sobbing and holding a handkerchief to her face.

Chris Hixon, a graduate and athlete from Pleasant Valley in 1986, was among those killed in the shooting. He was the athletic director of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Hixon, a US Navy veteran, reportedly responded to the gunfire by jumping on his golf cart and heading towards the sound to get the students to safety. Hixon encountered the shooter, was shot several times, but stood guard anyway, with his radio in hand until police arrived on the scene.

Satz’s comments came early in the trial to determine whether Cruz is executed or serves life in prison without parole.

The prosecutor’s presentation explained how Cruz shot each of the 14 students and three staff members who died and some of the 17 who were injured. Some were shot sitting at their desks, some as they fled and others as they bled on the floor as the former Stoneman Douglas student methodically walked through a three-story building for nearly seven minutes with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to murder and attempted murder and is only contesting his sentence. The trial, which is expected to last four months, was due to start in 2020, but it was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and legal battles.

Satz called the killings cold, calculated, cruel and heinous, citing video Cruz, then 19, made three days before the shooting.

“This is what the defendant said: ‘Hello, my name is Nik. I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018. My goal is to have at least 20 people with an AR-15 and some tracer rounds. It’s gonna be a big event, and when you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am. You are all going to die. Oh yeah, I can’t wait,” Satz said.

Among the first witnesses was Danielle Gilbert, a junior who was in psychology class when the shooting began. The teacher told the students to get behind her desk.

“We sat like sitting ducks. We had no way to protect ourselves,” said Gilbert, who is now a student at the University of Central Florida.

The jury then saw the cellphone video that Gilbert took inside the classroom. The footage began with a girl cowering under the professor’s desk and others, including Gilbert, mostly unseen as they crouched behind. About two dozen shots that seemed to come from just outside the door are heard in rapid succession as the fire alarm sounds. An invisible wounded boy shouts twice: “Someone help me.

The shots fade away, but the students remain silent and cowered, speaking only in low voices. Finally, the voices of the police are heard approaching. The teacher stands up holding her head.

“They’re coming, they’re coming, we’re fine,” a boy whispers.

SWAT officers, armed with rifles, then burst in, wanting to know if anyone was injured. The students point and Gilbert stands up with his camera. A wounded boy and girl are executed. A dead girl lies in a pool of blood. The officers tell the students to run away. They passed two other bodies lying in the hallway before exiting into a parking lot.

His testimony over, Gilbert burst into tears. Her father put his arm around her and ushered her out of the courtroom.

Prosecutors also presented a cellphone video from another student showing classmates crouching behind chairs as Cruz fired through the classroom door window, the bang echoing through the screams.

From the back of the courtroom, a parent of a girl who died in that classroom yelled at prosecutors to turn it off before bailiffs told the woman to shut up. The defense requested a mistrial for the explosion, but this was denied.

The jury of seven men and five women is supported by 10 alternates. It is the country’s deadliest mass shooting before a jury.

Nine other gunmen who killed at least 17 people died during or immediately after their shooting, either by suicide or by police gunfire. The suspect in the 2019 murder of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, is awaiting trial.

It was unclear if anyone was in the courtroom to support Cruz, who was seated at the defense table between his lawyers. During Satz’s opening statement, he mostly stared at a pad of paper with a pencil in his hand, but he didn’t appear to be writing. He sometimes looked up to watch Satz or the jury, peer into the audience or whisper to his lawyers.

After Satz’s speech, Cruz’s attorneys announced that they would not make their opening statement until it was time to present their case in weeks. It’s a rare and risky strategy because it gives Satz the only say before jurors consider grisly evidence and hear testimony from survivors and victims’ parents and spouses.

When lead defender Melisa McNeill makes her statement, she’ll likely point out that Cruz is a young adult with lifelong emotional and psychological issues who allegedly suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and abuse.

This is the first death penalty trial for Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer. When jurors finally get the case in the fall, they will vote 17 times, once for each of the victims, on whether to recommend capital punishment.

Each vote must be unanimous. A non-unanimous vote for one of the victims means Cruz’s sentence for that person would be life in prison. The jurors are informed that in order to vote for the death penalty, the aggravating circumstances presented by the prosecution for the victim in question must, in their judgment, prevail over the mitigating circumstances presented by the defence.

Regardless of the evidence, any juror can vote for life in prison out of mercy. During jury selection, panelists declared under oath that they were able to vote for either sentence.

FILE – Marjory Stoneman High School shooter Douglas Nikolas Cruz is brought to the defense table during jury selection during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. The deadliest mass shooting in US history that has never gone to trial is finally about to go before a jury. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday, July 15 during Cruz’s penalty trial. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, pool, file)

FILE – Judge Elizabeth Scherer presides over a hearing to set a date to determine when the trial in the case of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz can begin at the Broward County Courthouse, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The deadliest mass shooting in US history to go to trial is finally about to go to a jury. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday, July 18, 2022, during the penalty trial of Nikolas Cruz. (Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)

FILE – Deerfield Beach Elementary School art teacher Suzanne Devine Clark places painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on the first anniversary of the school shooting, the Thursday, February 14, 2019, in Parkland, Florida The deadliest mass shooting in US history to go to trial is finally about to go before a jury. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday, July 18, 2022, during the penalty trial of Nikolas Cruz. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

FILE – People take comfort as they sit and mourn in front of one of the Seventeen Crosses, February 15, 2018, after a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, in Florida. America’s story that has never been judged is finally about to go before a jury. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday, July 18, 2022, during the penalty trial of Nikolas Cruz. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

FILE – Fred Guttenberg, father of slain student Jaime Guttenberg, wipes his eyes as high school shooter Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shooting, Wednesday, October 20, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The deadliest mass shooting in US history to go to trial is finally about to go before a jury. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday, July 18, 2022, during the penalty trial of Nikolas Cruz. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, pool, file)

On Monday, July 18, 2022, relatives and family members arrive on the first day of the sentencing trial for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Court Complex in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Carl Just/Miami Herald via AP, Pool)

On Monday, July 18, 2022, relatives and family members arrive on the first day of the sentencing trial for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Court Complex in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Carl Just/Miami Herald via AP, Pool)

On Monday, July 18, 2022, relatives and family members arrive on the first day of the sentencing trial for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Court Complex in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Carl Just/Miami Herald via AP, Pool)

Relatives and family members arrive on the first day of the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Court Complex, Monday, July 18, 2022, in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Carl Just/Miami Herald via AP, Pool)

Relatives and family members arrive on the first day of the sentencing trial for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Court Complex, Monday, July 18, 2022, in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Carl Just/Miami Herald via AP, Pool)

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