The Life of Parkland Shooter Soon Goes to Jury's Hands

Deliberations begin Wednesday in penalty phase of Nikolas Cruz trial
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 12, 2022 1:00 AM CDT
Updated Oct 12, 2022 6:42 AM CDT
Jury Will Soon Decide Whether Parkland Shooter Gets Life or Death
Tony Montalto, seated with his wife, Jennifer Montalto, closes his eyes during the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.   (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

The prosecutor and defense attorney for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz agreed Tuesday that his 2018 attack that killed 17 people was horrible, but disagreed in their closing arguments on whether it was an act of evil worthy of execution or one of a broken person who should be imprisoned for life. Lead prosecutor Mike Satz and his defense counterpart, Melisa McNeill, painted for the 12 jurors competing pictures of what drove Cruz's attack at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day, the AP reports. For Satz, Cruz was driven by antisocial personality disorder—in lay terms, he's a sociopath. He deserves a death sentence because he “was hunting his victims” as he stalked a three-story classroom building for seven minutes. He fired his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle into some victims at close range and returned to wounded victims as they lay helpless “to finish them off."

Satz pointed to Cruz's internet writings and videos, where he talked about his murderous desires such as when he wrote, “No mercy, no questions, double tap. I am going to kill a ... ton of people and children.” McNeill, however, said neither Cruz nor herself has ever denied what he did and that “he knew right from wrong and he chose wrong.” But she said the former Stoneman Douglas student is “a broken, brain-damaged, mentally ill young man,” doomed from conception by the heavy drinking and drug use of his birth mother during pregnancy. She argued for a sentence of life without parole, assuring them he will never walk free again. “It’s the right thing to do. Mercy is what makes us civilized. Giving mercy to Nikolas will say more about who you are than it will ever say about him,” McNeill told the jury.

Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty a year ago to murdering 14 students and three staff members and wounding 17 others. The jury will only decide his sentence, and a unanimous vote is required for death. Jurors can vote for death if they believe the prosecution's aggravating factors such as the multiple deaths and the planning outweigh the defense's mitigating circumstances such as his birth mother's drinking. They can also vote for life out of mercy for Cruz. Deliberations are expected to begin Wednesday. Cruz's massacre is the deadliest mass shooting that has ever gone to trial in the US. Nine other people in the US who fatally shot at least 17 people died during or immediately after their attacks by suicide or police gunfire. The suspect in the 2019 massacre of 23 at Walmart in El Paso, Texas, is awaiting trial. (More here on what's next for Cruz.)

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