Prosecutors began laying out their case for why, the admitted gunman, Nikolas Cruz, who slaughtered 17 innocents in the 2018 school massacre in Parkland, deserves the death penalty. Lead prosecutor Mike Satz told jurors, in openings at Cruz’s Fort Lauderdale sentencing trial, that the mass murderer’s premeditated and merciless depravity warranted execution rather than life without parole.
“I’m going to speak to you about the unspeakable. About this defendant’s goal-directed, planned, systematic murder, mass murder, of 14 children, an athletic director, a teacher and a coach,” said Satz.
A message was read out by the prosecutors that Cruz posted in the days before the attack that giddily laid out his lethal mission.
“I think it’s going to be a big event. And when you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am. You’re all going to die. Oh yeah, I can’t wait,” Satz recited.
The prosecutor said of the threat: “Cold, calculating, malicious and deadly.”
On February 14, 2018, Cruz, a former student, systematically roamed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15 rifle and fatally sprayed 14 students and three staffers with bullets.
The massacre was described in detail by Satz, highlighting that Cruz, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, returned to some classrooms he had already riddled with bullets to finish off some of the writhing wounded.
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He also said that one student was pumped with 13 bullets from the killer’s rifle.
Other victims, in a desperate bid to escape the carnage, were coldly cut down while staggering down hallways.
In sweltering South Florida heat, roughly 50 grim-faced relatives and friends of Cruz’s victims filed into the Broward County Courthouse, with many dabbing sweat from their faces as they entered.
Among some in the audience, the mention of specific victim names induced tears and quivering lips, as Satz recounted the horror during his openings.
As the prosecutor spoke, others squeezed the hands of their spouses.
During Satz’s opening graphic narration, one grieving woman left the courtroom.
During the proceeding, Cruz looked attentive, appearing slight and hunched in a sweater and large glasses, occasionally taking notes as his eyes darted around the courtroom.
The defendant sporadically leaned over to confer with one of his attorneys, while Satz summarized his crimes in grisly detail.
As Cruz has already pleaded guilty to the slayings, he is now attempting to avoid the death penalty in favor of a life sentence.
Prosecutors will attempt to convince the seven men and five women of the jury, over the course of the trial, to sentence him to death instead.
As a mitigating factor in the case, Cruz’s attorneys are expected to cite his traumatic upbringing, stressing that his childhood was mired in dysfunction, neglect and mental illness.
In his opening statement, Satz sought to preempt some of those arguments, asserting that no level of juvenile trauma can lighten the severity of Cruz’s crimes.
“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,” he said.
Cruz’s trial was repeatedly delayed by COVID-19 and legal wrangling and now is expected to last for several months.