The penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz began on Monday, the deadliest US mass shooting to go before a jury.
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty last October to 17 counts of first-degree murder at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school in the deaths of 14 students and three staff members there in 2018, and is now only contesting his sentence.
Jurors must decide whether he gets the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
The seven-man, five-woman panel, backed up by 10 alternates, will hear from lead prosecutor Mike Satz, who is expected to highlight Cruz’s brutality as he stalked a three-storey classroom building, firing his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle down hallways and into classrooms.
Cruz sometimes walked back to wounded victims and killed them with a second volley of shots.
About three dozen family members of the victims were in the courtroom, sitting together in a roped-off section. The trial for the former Stoneman Douglas student, expected to last about four months, was supposed to begin in 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic and legal fights delayed it.
The defense lawyers won’t say when they will deliver their opening statements: at the start of the trial or when they begin presenting their case weeks from now.
If lead defender Melisa McNeill gives her statement, she will likely emphasize that Cruz is a young adult with lifelong emotional and psychological problems who allegedly suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and abuse.
The goal would be to temper the jurors’ emotions as they hear the prosecution’s case, making them more open to considering the defense’s arguments later.
The Parkland shooting on 14 February 2018, is the deadliest to reach trial in US history. Nine other gunmen who killed at least 17 people died during or immediately after their shootings, either by suicide or police gunfire.
The suspect in the 2019 slaying of 23 people in an anti-immigrant shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart is awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, in a series of mass shootings in the past two months, the white man accused of shooting dead 10 Black people in a racist attack at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, in May was scheduled on Monday to be arraigned in federal court where the teenager faces 27 hate crimes and firearms offenses.
And funeral services for seven people killed by a gunman at an Independence Day parade this year in Illinois will conclude Monday as family and friends gather in suburban Chicago. The alleged shooter has been charged with murder.
The shooter in the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting in May was killed and on Sunday, bereaved families collected copies of an initial report into the massacre that described huge failures by the authorities.
July 18, 2022 at 09:27PM Guardian staff and agencies