Parkland school shooting – live: Jury hears opening statement in Nikolas Cruz death sentence trial

(FILE) Footage released shows an officer standing outside the Parkland school as the shooting took place

Nikolas Cruz, the man convicted of shooting dead 17 people and injuring 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018, faces sentencing trial for his crimes.

Cruz, a former student at the school, was just 19 when he took part in a shooting in what turned out to be one of the deadliest school massacres in US history.

He then surrendered to police and pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first degree murder and 17 of attempted murder.

Cruz was part of the school’s air rifle team that was expelled due to his disciplinary record.

He had arrived at the school with a legally purchased AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and shot and killed 14 students and three staff. The shooting sparked a nationwide protest demanding tougher gun control measures.

While prosecutors are asking for the death penalty for Cruz, his lawyers are hoping for a life sentence.

DISCLAIMER – Graphical Content: Video captured by students that day was released in court with a public audio broadcast.


New witness: Dylan Kraemer

A new witness is called, Dyland Kraemer, who was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

He was in a Holocaust history class when Cruz started his attack. Cruz fired through the classroom door window, hitting several people as they sorted through shelter, including behind an overturned filing cabinet.

Two people died and many were injured.

Mr. Kraemer also took video that day on his cellphone. It also plays out in court. Loud gunshots and horrifying screams can be heard.

Sitting with his defense team, Cruz’s head is now resting on the desk.

Angenette Levy of Law & Crime reports that the victims’ family members threw up their hands and said, “Shut up!”


After the videos, Ms. Gilbert is excused as the defense refuses to question her.


Ms Gilbert’s videos are played in court

Videos taken by Ms Gilbert are now playing in court.

They are not broadcast to the public, but the audio is playing. There are loud gunshots, screams and moans. A male voice can be heard pleading for help. Whispers can also be heard when students take shelter behind their teacher’s desk.

Mrs. Gilbert in the gallery and her family members in the gallery are visually moved. One woman has covered her ears and is looking away, another hastily left the courtroom.

Cruz looks down, his head in his hands.


New witness: Danielle Gilbert

Danielle Gilbert is called to the stand. She attends the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

In 2018, she was a junior at Marjory Stone Douglas and was in class 1213 on February 14.

His teacher called the students to hide behind his desk and the 30 students gathered there far from the door window. Cruz had not yet shot in the classroom at this point.

When he did, four people were injured and one person died – 16-year-old Carmen Schentrup.

Ms Gilbert recorded videos on her mobile phone and then handed them over to authorities.

A sidebar with the judge is called up and the audio is muted.


The court resumes

After attempting to resolve a number of technical issues with the screens and if the jury or defense team could see what the witness was marking, the trial resumes.

Ms Sinich recalls her class reading Romeo and Juliet and writing Valentine’s Day cards in the style of the characters in the play. They were interrupted by strong pistol shots from Cruz and locked the door, taking refuge in corners and behind desks.

She called 911 and the dispatcher had trouble hearing her over the sound of gunfire. The class was sheltered in place until law enforcement arrived and they could hear their walkie-talkies. No one in Ms. Sinich’s class was injured and no shots entered the room. They were evacuated by the police.

His 911 call plays and loud gunshots can be heard in the background before the call disconnects.

The defense refuses to cross-examine Ms. Sinich.


Seven aggravating circumstances to prove in the death penalty

There are seven aggravating factors that prosecutors must prove in order to secure the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz.

1. Previously convicted of a capital crime. (pleaded guilty)

2. Knowingly created a great risk of death for many people.

3. The murders were particularly heinous, atrocious or cruel.

4. Cold, calculated, premeditated murders

5. Killings Committed to Disrupt or Obstruct Government Function (School)

6. The victim was a named official (teacher, athletic director, coach)

7. Murders were committed during a burglary (entering the school without permission)


Interruption of the court due to a technical problem

As Ms Sinich is asked to mark the locations of her classroom and the pedestrian gate on a screen, there is a complaint that the jury and defense could see what she was marking on their screens.

Judge Scherer calls the jury out while the technical issue is resolved.


court resumes

The hearing resumed and the defense reserving its opening statement for later, the prosecution called its first witness.

Called to testify first on the afternoon of the first day is Brittany Sinich, a teacher since 2017 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas where she was also previously a student. She was 22 at the time of the massacre and had joined the faculty after college.

Her class was on the first floor of building 1200 in room 1218.



What happens when the jury finally deliberates?

When jurors finally decide the case after the week-long trial, they will vote 17 times, once for each of the victims, on whether to recommend capital punishment.

Each vote must be unanimous. A non-unanimous vote for one of the victims means Cruz’s sentence for that person would be life in prison. Jurors are told that in order to pass the death penalty, the aggravating circumstances presented by the prosecution for the victim in question must, in their opinion, “outweigh” the mitigating circumstances presented by the defence.

Regardless of the evidence, any juror can vote for life in prison out of mercy. During jury selection, panelists declared under oath that they were able to vote for either sentence.

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