FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Jurors on Tuesday at Broward County court in Fort Lauderdale had to view more photographs of the slain Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School victims. Doctors used the photos to determine the cause of death of the 17 killed during the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre.
The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz also showed the jury his AR-15 rifle for the second time since the penalty phase began on July 18. And when the jurors listened to testimony by Michael Morrison, they learned Cruz, then 18 years old, purchased the rifle legally.
“I go shooting with my friends on the weekend. I just want my own stuff,” Cruz said to explain his purchase, according to Morrison, the co-owner of Sunrise Tactical Supply in Coral Springs, who was the first witness on Tuesday morning.
Jurors also reviewed some of the forensic evidence in Cruz’s death penalty trial with the help of three more witnesses: Broward Sheriff’s Office DNA analyst Rebecca Santiago, Dr. Rebecca M. MacDougall, and Dr. Marlon Osbourne. The two pathologists who were working for the medical examiner’s office described the images that showed the victims’ injuries.
Watch the 12 p.m. report
Assistant State Attorney Michael J. Satz displayed a receipt showing Cruz paid $618.74 for the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport II with serial number TF16214. It was $579 plus $34.74 in tax. Morrison said Cruz added features to the rifle.
“There was nothing on the rifle when it left the store. It didn’t have the bipod. It didn’t have the grip, and there was no sling,” Morrison said.
The state approved Cruz’s purchase, Morrison said. During their exchange in court, Sanz and Morrison clarified a transaction like that could no longer happen legally. After the Parkland school shooting, the Florida legislature increased the state’s legal age to buy a gun to 21.
Morrison also said that when he talked to Cruz at the store he was looking “for any red flags, any signs, why the sale should not happen.” He found none.
Watch the 3 p.m. report
TESTIMONY ON AUTOPSIES
MacDougall, a pathologist who performed the autopsies of some of the victims of the Valentine’s Day massacre at the school, said the AR-15 rifle’s “high-velocity rounds often fragment” when entering the victim’s body.
MacDougall testified about 14-year-old Alex Schachter’s injuries, as Satz displayed images that only the jury and the attorneys in the case could view.
A gunshot wound penetrated “the right side of the chest. It injured the upper lobe of the right lung and the spinal cord is transacted ... the seventh thoracic [spine] vertebrae is also fractured,” MacDougall said adding that another wound penetrated “the left side of the chest” and ruptured “the left lung.”
Alex’s father, Max Schachter, was in the courtroom area designated for the grieving families. He used one hand to partially cover his face. His shoulders and chest shook. He was in tears. Cruz killed his little boy before he got a chance to leave his desk in classroom 1216.
MacDougall also testified about the autopsies of Schachter’s classmate 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, who died in classroom 1216. Alyssa, the daughter of Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff, suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the left side of her chest, according to MacDougall.
“This entrance gunshot wound injures the lung, the left ventricle of the heart, the great vessels of the heart,” MacDougall said adding the one high-velocity round fragmented as it went through her body and caused three exit wounds on Alyssa’s back.
Two bullets grazed her head, but did not damage her skull, she said. Another wounded Alyssa’s left lower abdomen at the pelvis. And Alyssa also suffered wounds to her left hand, right shoulder, right arm, and right upper chest, MacDougall said.
MacDougall also performed the autopsy of Scott Beigel, a 35-year-old geography teacher and cross-country coach who died on the third floor at the entrance of his classroom. She said bullets pierced his heart and ruptured his lungs.
Watch the 4 p.m. report
PENALTY PHASE STATUS
Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill took issue with some of the images Satz, who is leading the prosecution team, displayed for the jury to see. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer allowed the evidence despite the defense’s fear that the photographs could lead the jury to make a premature judgment.
Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October. By Tuesday afternoon, after a two-hour recess, Satz had called 47 witnesses to testify during his seven days in court.
Cruz’s defense team is fighting to save his life. McNeill, who leads the team, has yet to present her opening statement and a list of witnesses who will likely focus on Cruz’s mental health, his stressors, and the systemic failures he faced.
The 12 jurors, who are seated in two rows and among the 10 alternate jurors, will have to consider each victim and vote on whether or not Cruz deserves to die for his crimes. Without the jury’s unanimous vote, Scherer will have to sentence Cruz to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Scherer said the court was in recess until 9 a.m., on Wednesday.
Watch the 5 p.m. report
Coverage from court
- Day 3 | July 20: Former Parkland student bares scars to jurors
- Day 5 | July 22: Jurors see evidence, hear difficult testimony
- Day 6 | July 25: Prosecution calls Uber driver, detectives, pathologists, survivor
- Day 7 | July 26: Expert commentary on Facebook Live with Anchor Janine Stanwood