FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer told the jury in the Parkland school shooter’s death penalty trial to prepare to visit the preserved Feb. 14, 2018 crime scene on Thursday morning.
Scherer said Wednesday that Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies will guide the 12 jurors into the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s 1200 building where Nikolas Cruz shot 34 people — killing 17 and injuring 17 — more than four years ago.
“You may not have possession of your phone or any camera during the jury view,” Scherer said as she read her instructions adding, that the jurors are only allowed to quietly “observe and explore.”
Scherer, who is presiding over the case, said the jury will return to Broward County court on Thursday afternoon in Fort Lauderdale after visiting the sealed three-story building. She said there will be more victim impact statements.
Impact statements for three of the 17 victims — Peter Wang, 15; Helena Ramsey, 17; and Christopher Hixon, 49 — were still pending.
Cruz’s long-awaited penalty phase began on July 18. As of Wednesday afternoon, prosecutors had called 84 witnesses. The list includes the 17 injured. It also includes the 27 — most of them grieving mothers and fathers — who have presented victim impact statements.
The families of 14-year-old slain students, Gina Montalto, Alexander Schachter, and Cara Loughran presented statements on Wednesday afternoon in court.
“The pain I feel is magnified as I look at my wife and see her struggle without Gina ... It tears me apart to see her suffer,” Tony Montalto said about Gina’s grieving mother Jennifer Montalto, who also testified.
Tony Montalto said he wore the gray suit he had on during his last father-and-daughter dance with Gina.
“The unquenchable yearning to hug my daughter never goes away,” he said.
On his family’s suffering, he added, “My son struggles to make sense of Gina’s death.”
“As I wake up each day, I quickly snap back to this horrible reality and realize that Alex is never coming home,” Max Schachter said. “I want my family back. I want my sweet Alex.”
Ryan Schachter read “Life Is Like A Roller Coaster,” a poem by his slain brother.
“Eventually, it will all come to a stop,” the 14-year-old boy wrote. “You won’t know when.”
PENALTY PHASE STATUS
Cruz was 19 years old when he used an AR-15 rifle to fire high-velocity rounds at students, teachers, and staff. Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October.
The defense wanted it excluded as irrelevant. The prosecution alleged the attack was a “life-threatening event.” Scherer denied the defense’s motion and sided with the prosecution.
Jurors have viewed photos of the victims’ bodies when forensic pathologists described the fatal wounds. They also watched videos of Cruz and read about his morbid obsessions online when detectives explained the evidence.
It will be up to the 12 jurors to decide Cruz’s fate after the prosecution and the defense present their cases. They have to vote unanimously on each of the victims for Cruz to be executed. Otherwise, Cruz will face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Scherer said the prosecution team should tell Thursday’s witnesses to be in court by 1 p.m., pending the return of the jurors from the crime scene view.
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