FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter presented jurors on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale with evidence that showed his violent thoughts and actions.
The prosecution called four witnesses who work for the Broward Sheriff’s Office and a medical examiner. The five witnesses testified in front of some of the grieving families at the high-tech 17th-floor Broward County courtroom in the judicial complex’s modern West Building.
BSO Sgt. Raymond “Ray” Beltran, the prosecution’s first witness of the day, described when Cruz attacked him on Nov. 13, 2018, at the main jail. The jurors watched the surveillance video showing Cruz launching himself at the uniformed deputy during an exercise break.
“He basically stopped talking, he flipped me off twice, and starts attacking,” Beltran said adding Cruz got a hold of his Taser gun with his right hand.
Earlier in the morning Wednesday, the defense filed a motion asking the court to preclude the use of Cruz’s conviction of battery on a law enforcement officer as an aggravating factor in this case.
Cruz also pleaded guilty in the case involving Beltran.
The defense team stated in their motion that “the trial court must determine whether the facts and circumstances of a prior conviction meet the required threshold for whether an act is a life-threatening crime,” and stated that Beltran’s injuries were not life-threatening.
(The full motion can be read below)
Watch the 12 p.m. report
Before recess, the prosecution started to focus on the phone Cruz abandoned after the massacre on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Detectives later found its content provided a window into Cruz’s homicidal ideations.
Assistant State Attorney Michael J. Satz called Sgt. Kevin Forsberg and Sgt. Valerian Perez to the stand. Both BSO veterans responded to the school to identify evidence after Cruz shot 34 people — killing 17 and injuring 17 — at the 1200 building.
Forsberg said he found Cruz’s cell phone in the building’s east stairwell on the first floor after calling 954-821-1007. He said BSO Sgt. Gloria Crespo, who testified on July 25, took pictures of it before he placed it in an evidence bag. Forsberg handed it to Perez, who said he submitted it to a colleague for forensic analysis.
BSO Detective Nicholas Masters, of the South Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said he examined the digital evidence. He said the records from Google show Cruz regularly searched for information about massacres, killers, and weapons.
The 18-page list that Masters read in court included searches for “perfect murder weapon,” “how to become evil in society,” “Why I want to kill woman,” “how to become a school shooter,” “how to shoot at 500 yards,” “AR-15 tactical shooting,” and “pumped up kicks columbine high school.”
“I love to see to see the familyes suffer,” Cruz wrote on YouTube on July 4, 2017, according to Masters.
Cruz — who described himself as a “level 3 psychopath” — was also researching other massacres. Masters said he searched for the 1989 École Polytechnique shooting killing 14 in Canada, the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting killing 32, and the 2017 Las Vegas shooting killing 60.
About four months before the Parkland school massacre, Cruz wrote, “I have no problem shooting a girl on the chest.”
Watch the 3 p.m. report
Dr. Craig Mallak, who was working for the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office after the shooting, said Cara Loughran, a 14-year-old student who died at the school, was shot in the chest three times. Jurors viewed photographs of her lifeless body.
“There is so much energy to these bullets, so they just tear skin, bones, organs,” Mallak said referring to the high-velocity rounds Cruz fired from his AR-15.
Mallak said one of the bullets injured the large artery that brings blood back to the heart. Another bullet ran through her heart. Mallak said that the injury was fatal.
While questioning Beltran, Assistant Public Defender David Wheeler disclosed that Cruz was on suicide watch several times in jail. Another defense attorney who was questioning Masters said Cruz made some of the morbid posts while his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, was hospitalized. She died on Nov. 1, 2017.
Watch the 4 p.m. report
PENALTY PHASE STATUS
Before the testimony started on Wednesday morning, Satz, who leads the prosecution team, told Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who is presiding over the death penalty case, that he will likely finish with witness testimony next week.
Satz has called 53 witnesses to testify during his eight days in court. Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill has yet to present her opening statement and a list of witnesses who will likely focus on Cruz’s mental health and the systemic failures that he faced.
Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October.
The 12 jurors, who are seated among the 10 alternate jurors in two rows, 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, Cruz faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Scherer said the court was in recess until 9:30 a.m. on Monday.
Watch the 5 p.m. report
Motion seeking to preclude use of Cruz’s conviction of battery on a law enforcement officer as an aggravating factor in Parkland case:
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: Jurors learn more about rifle from seller, victims’ wounds
- Day 8 | July 27: Expert commentary on Facebook Live with Anchor Janine Stanwood