Wilfredo Lee / AP
Sentencing trial for the gunman who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., more than four years ago will begin Monday.
After nearly three months of jury selection, jurors had to decide whether Nikolas Cruz, 23, would receive a life sentence or the death penalty. He is ready pleaded guilty for all fees.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, while Cruz’s defense team is hoping for the only other option: life in prison and the inability to be pardoned. (In Florida, life sentences do not allow pardons.)
A jury of seven men and five women will hear witness testimony and consider evidence, in a trial that is expected to last months.
The trial panel must be unanimous in deciding to pronounce the death sentence. If a single juror disagrees, Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison.
The trial has faced repeated delays
When he appeared in court last fall, Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and an additional 17 counts of attempted murder. At the time, he spoke to members of the victim’s family to apologize for his actions.
“I’m so sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day,” he said. “And that if I had a second chance, I would do everything in my power to try to help others.”
During pre-trial hearings, lead prosecutor Michael Satz outlined Cruz’s actions on Valentine’s Day 2018. The former student, who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman a year earlier, had took an Uber to school and started shooting an AR-15 -Students rifle in the hallways and classrooms.
He killed 14 students, 3 staff members and seriously injured 17 others. He left the scene by hiding among the fleeing students and was arrested shortly after a few blocks away.
The sentencing hearing has faced a series of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic and attorneys’ requests. Cruz’s defense attorneys last month requested another delay following May’s mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, alleging the tragedy in which 19 students and two teachers were killed triggered emotions that would unfairly influence the trial. The judge rejected this proposal.
The shooting prompted a wave of support from the victims
A month after the shooting, Florida passes law raised the minimum age to buy a long gun like a rifle to 21. Cruz, 19 at the time of the shooting, legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle he used in the massacre. The law also provides additional funding for security at schools and also allows law enforcement to seize weapons from anyone deemed a threat to themselves or others.
As a result of the passage of the law, law enforcement officials say that over the past four years, Florida has issued more than 8,000 red flag orders for firearms confiscation.
After Monday’s sentencing hearing begins, the jury will also hear statements from the families of those killed.
What to expect
The defense is expected to argue that the gunman was impaired by mental illness. Stephen Harper, a longtime public defender specializing in death penalty cases in Florida, previously told NPR that the evidence presented may include EEG tests and other forms of brain scans.
“His mother was clearly an alcoholic and a drug abuser,” Harper said. “And in utero he would be exposed to very serious things that could clearly affect his mental capacity. So those things are very relevant.”
However, legal experts say the nature of the premeditated killings will present a tough challenge for the defense.
In a video recorded before the shooting emerged that followed, the gunman described his murder plan, while also talking about his “lonely life” and his hatred of “everyone and everyone.” everything.”
The judges will see harrowing videos taken by students of some of their classmates’ final moments, as well as eyewitness accounts of survivors.