Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17, a jury and judge will decide whether Nikolas Cruz should be executed. Cruz faces the death penalty after pleading guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in October.
If they approve Cruz’s execution, jurors must agree unanimously. The final say goes to Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who may rule in the fall. Due to the notoriety surrounding the killings, jury selection might take weeks, and the penalty trial could span four months.
It was supposed to commence in 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus epidemic. After hearing both sides’ arguments, the jury must unanimously decide to execute Cruz. Florida law mandates a mandatory life sentence if even one juror votes no.
Before delivering a sentence, the judge reviews the facts and testimony and considers any additional arguments. According to the Capital Penalty Information Center, Florida is one of 28 states that still has the death penalty. California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania have governor-imposed moratoriums, meaning no executions.
17 dead in under 7 minutes
On Feb. 14, 2018, Cruz, now 23, went on a seven-minute rampage across a three-story building on the Parkland campus, roughly 15 miles southwest of Boca Raton, killing 14 students and three staff members. He injured 17. He had been expelled from high school 13 months before.
Cruz walked to a Walmart just west of campus and got a drink at Subway before leaving and stopping at a McDonald’s. Cruz was detained 2 miles southwest of campus at 3:37 p.m. Cruz was handcuffed when a witness identified him.
Cruz, then 19, took an Uber from his nearby home to the school on the day of the shooting. He put the AR-15 in a music bag and told the driver he was going to music class. He shot at least two unarmed security guards and a student at 2:21 p.m.
Cruz walked the first floor of Building 12, the north campus’s principal freshman building. He used an AR-15 to shoot pupils in the halls and classroom windows.
It’s a trial, thus the sentencing
Due to the nature of the crime and the number of victims, the penalty phase is expected to take months. The jury will consist of 20 members, eight of whom will be alternates. Monday through Wednesday, lawyers will pick potential jurors, and Thursday and Friday, evidence will be heard.
Finding neutral jurors in Broward County is one of the court’s challenges. Innocent school shooters often commit suicide during or after the attack.
“I am extremely sorry. And I have to accept it. I will do everything in my ability if given a second opportunity,” Cruz said after pleading guilty in October, one of the few occasions he spoke in court.
A jury analyses aggravating and mitigating factors before sending someone to death row. They must prove at least one aggravating factor that outweighs the mitigating factors.
Among other things, terrible, cruel, or depraved crimes need extensive preparation and premeditation. The defense will likely contend Cruz committed the charge while suffering from serious mental or emotional distress.
The state has identified almost 1,000 witnesses, but none are expected to testify. This includes numerous mental health professionals who have examined Cruz, whose mental health is expected to be key to the trial.