FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Day 2 of the penalty phase trial for confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz began Tuesday with the defense team arguing that the state doesn’t need to show jurors videos from that tragic day as guilt has already been established.
The defense stated that the state witnesses can just testify with words and the videos are more prejudicial than of probative value.
The state argued that the videos are needed to prove that aggravating factors existed during the crime.
According to Florida state statutes, aggravating factors can include that the defendant “knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons” and that the murders were committed in “a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification,” or were “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.”
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the defense’s motion, but she ruled that sensitive evidence, like surveillance video capturing the shooter murdering and wounding staff and students at MSD, will be shown only to the jurors and shielded from the public.
Jurors then saw video from the school’s surveillance camera system that shows the shooter entering the school while armed.
The shooter didn’t appear to watch the video on his monitor, but instead, he continued to look down, and at some points was holding his head, just as he was many times during the first day of the trial.
Some of the sensitive evidence shown Tuesday included photos of Alex Dworet’s injuries.
Dworet, who was injured in the shooting and whose brother, Nick, was killed, testified Tuesday.
He said the shooting started during the end of his fourth period English class.
Dworet testified that he heard some loud noises, but initially thought it could be the band coming down the hallway. He said he then felt a hot sensation on the back of his head and realized he was in danger.
Dworet described to the court how he took cover in a corner of the classroom as his peers checked on him.
He said straight in front of him he could see his classmate, Alex Schachter, dead in his seat.
“There was like a metal bar at the desk and half of his body was off the bar and the other half was still in his seat,” Dworet said. “And I saw a pile of blood forming under him and I saw his body, not spasming, but trying to take his final breathes.”
Jurors heard from other students who were among the 17 people injured that day and watched their classmates die.
“Two of my friends were shot dead right next to me,” said Samantha Fuentes.
Fuentes told jurors she realized she was hurt when blood began pouring into her eyes.
She said she still lives with shrapnel embedded in her body.
“I peeked my head behind a podium and say Cruz after he finished firing,” she said.
Annika and Mitch Dworet sat in the courtroom as their surviving son spoke about what he went through that day.
Their son, Nicholas, who was killed in the shooting, was the captain of the MSD swim team.
Another student who testified Tuesday was Isabel Chequer, who was grazed twice by bullets. She choked up on the stand as she recalled seeing her other injured classmates, some of whom would die from their injuries, like Nicholas Dworet.
English teacher Dara Hass broke down as she recounted hearing students screaming and seeing Alex Schachter shot at his desk.
She said she heard loud bursts of gunfire and say debris flying across the room, and then there was silence, she said.
Hass said she saw the wounded as she left the school that day.
“I wanted to stay with the students who couldn’t get out,” she said.
Another student who was injured that day, William Olson, also testified, along with Christopher McKenna, who saw Cruz just before the gunman went on his rampage.
“He had a rifle in his hands,” McKenna said.
McKenna said he was outside his classroom on a bathroom pass when he ran right into the shooter.
“He said, ‘Get out of here. Things are about to get bad,’” McKenna said.
McKenna bolted from the school and ran into Coach Aaron Feis, who he said told him to be calm.
“I got into his golf cart. He dropped me off in (the) 1300 building,” McKenna said.
Feis would double-back to respond to the gunfire and was ultimately killed by Cruz.
On the stand now is— Christina Boomer Vazquez, M.S. (@CBoomerVazquez) July 19, 2022
Isabel Chequer - one of the 17 hurt - a student at the time of the shooting who said she was “grazed twice”. She chokes up when recounts seeing injured classmates, some of which she would learn later died from their wounds to include Nicholas Dworet. pic.twitter.com/Qg68KymW4S
Jurors also watched surveillance video of the shooter gunning down victims from more than one camera angle.
“He shot her the first time and then came back and shot her again, and (it) shows her taking two passes at that particular victim?” the judge asked.
The defense had objected to jurors seeing the video, but the judge agreed with the state that it was relevant.
On Monday, the lead prosecutor told the jury that Cruz, who attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine’s Day in 2018, should be executed.
Prosecutor Mike Satz described to 12 jurors the cold, calculating way Cruz mowed down his victims, including returning to some as they lay wounded to finish them off.
He also quoted a video Cruz, then 19, made three days before the shooting.
“This is what the defendant said: ‘Hello, my name is Nik. I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018. My goal is at least 20 people with an AR-15 and some tracer rounds. 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. Ah yeah, I can’t wait,’” Satz said.
On Monday, the jury heard from several witnesses, including a teacher and two students.
“We were sitting like sitting ducks. We had no way to protect ourselves,” said Danielle Gilbert, who is now a student at the University of Central Florida.
At the time, Gilbert was a junior who was in psychology class when the shooting began.
She said her teacher told students to get behind her desk.
The jury was then shown cellphone video Gilbert took inside the classroom. The footage began with a girl curled up beneath the teacher’s desk and others, including Gilbert, mostly unseen as they crouch behind it.
About two dozen shots that seemed to be coming from just outside the door are heard in rapid succession as the fire alarm sounds. An unseen wounded boy cries out twice, “Someone help me.”
Cruz pleaded guilty in October to murder and attempted murder in the deaths of 14 students and three staff members at the school.
The 23-year-old is contesting only his sentence.
The jury will decide whether he is sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
The trial is expected to last for about four months.