FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – After closing arguments concluded Tuesday afternoon, Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer started to prepare the jury for deliberation to start on Wednesday.
Scherer told jurors that the Broward Sheriff’s Office will take custody of them and seize their mobile phones on Wednesday after jury instructions.
Scherer asked the jurors to pack a bag with a few changes of clothes, toiletry items, medications, and two books for entertainment. Electronics are prohibited.
“You cannot bring any law-related books, don’t bring dictionaries,” Scherer said.
Scherer said location services need to be disabled since the hotel is a “top secret” location and she said jurors can use her office number as an emergency contact.
“You are not going to have TV; you are not going to have a phone,” Scherer said.
Jurors are limited to two alcoholic drinks per day and the cost will not be covered by BSO. Also, Scherer plans to allow one of the jurors to bring in her knitting needles.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys reviewed the charging documents for the jury, which will include the aggravating factors and the mitigating circumstances, and checked that the jury room doesn’t have access to the internet and has the equipment needed to review digital evidence.
PROSECUTION ASKS FOR DEATH
As Chief Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz presented his closing argument Tuesday morning in Broward County, he urged the jury to review Cruz’s comments on YouTube and his online searches.
Satz said it was important to do so because “what one writes and one says is a window to someone’s soul.”
“No mercy, no questions, double tap,“ “I am going to kill a [expletive] ton of people,” and “I love to see the families suffer” are some of the comments Cruz wrote, Satz said.
The online history also shows Cruz researched and planned the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Satz said. He said Cruz was “goal-directed,” and “calculated.”
Satz said Cruz purchased the AR-15-style rifle on Feb. 18, 2017. He bought a lot of ammunition and accessories. Satz said Cruz’s “unspeakable, horrific brutality” and “cruelty” resulted in the 17 murders.
Satz said Cruz shot and killed Luke Hoyer, 14, Martin Duque, 14, and Gina Montalto, 14, in front of classroom 1215. He said Gina suffered “contact wounds” when Cruz pressed “the end” of that AR-15 right against her chest and right upon her abdomen.
Satz then asked the jury to remember Cruz’s comment online: “I don’t mind shooting a girl in the chest.”
Cruz’s victims in classroom 1216 were Alex Schachter, 14, Alaina Petty, 14, and Alyssa Alhadeff, 14. In classroom 1214, Cruz killed Helena Ramsey, 17, and Nicholas Dworet, 17.
Satz said Cruz shot and killed Christopher Hixon, 49, and Aaron Feis, 37, who both rushed into the building to respond to the shooting.
“The defendant fired 70 shots on the first floor,” Satz said.
Satz said didn’t know about the shooting when they walked out of their classrooms when dust set off the fire alarm. Once they realized what was happening students rushed back to the classroom.
While on the third floor Cruz shot and killed Scott Beigel, 34, Meadow Pollock, 18, Cara Loughran, 14, Joaquin Oliver, 17, and Jaime Guttenberg, 14.
Satz said Cruz shot Peter Wang 12 times, including four to the head. He asked the jurors to remember what Cruz told a psychologist about Wang’s murder: “His head blew up like a watermelon.”
In all, Satz said Cruz fired 139 rounds in the 1200 building.
Cruz also had an escape plan. Satz said he wore his JROTC shirt to blend in. He went to Walmart for a drink and to a McDonald’s where he asked John Wilford for a ride, Satz said. John decided not to give him a ride.
Unbeknownst to him, Cruz had injured his sister Madeleine during the shooting. Cruz then decided to start walking on the street and he walked over a mile until a police officer spotted him and arrested him.
“He carried out his plan ... and he told everybody about his plan,” Satz said.
Satz asked the jury to remember that Cruz had recorded a video on Feb. 11, 2018, saying, “Hello, my name is Nik, I am going to be the next school shooter of 2018. My goal is to kill at least 20 people with an AR and a couple of tracers. I think I could get it done. Location: Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida. It’s going to be a big event, and when you see me on the news, you will know who I am. Ha! Ha! You are all going to die. I can’t wait.”
Satz also played a Feb. 14, 2018 surveillance video to show the jury how “purposeful” Cruz’s actions were. Satz warned the jury the defense was going to ask them to consider Cruz’s mental health and deficits.
“Hate is not a mental disorder. Hate is part of antisocial personality, so let’s look at hate here, there was a swastika on the defendant’s boot,” Satz said.
Satz reminded the jury there was also a swastika sketched on the AR-15 Cruz used, and one drawn with a marker on a book bag he used to walk around his former school.
Satz also asked the jury to remember experts had diagnosed Cruz with malingering, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder, and that Cruz’s drawings, animal abuse, and searches for child pornography were symptomatic of it.
Satz then ended his closing argument by asking the jury to consider that “the appropriate sentence” for each of the 17 victims is the death penalty.
DEFENSE ASKS JURY FOR LIFE
The Parkland school shooter’s defense aimed to convince one of the 12 jurors to choose life for all of the 17 first-degree murder charges.
Chief Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill told the jurors the decision that they need to make during deliberation is about how to punish and not about “accountability.”
“The law authorizes you to give a sentence based on mercy alone,” McNeill said.
McNeill started her closing argument by reminding the jury about Cruz’s late biological mother Brenda Woodard’s alleged alcohol use during pregnancy and how it “damaged” his brain.
McNeill said Cruz has a neurodevelopmental disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure and asked the jurors to remember the testimony of Carolyn Deakins and Danielle Woodard. They both claimed Brenda Woodard used alcohol and crack while pregnant.
McNeill said the death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst.
“And the worst of the worst offenders are never people who are mentally ill and damaged through no fault of their own,” McNeill said.
McNeill also blamed Cruz’s late adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, for not being consistent with his mental health treatment.
McNeill said Cruz was a victim of child sex abuse and learned marksmanship from the school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
McNeill said the prosecution worked to “dehumanize” Cruz and the defense worked to show the jury who Cruz is and not “just what he did.” She described him as “brain damaged, broken” and “mentally ill.”
McNeill also referenced the Florida Department of Children and Families report that designated Cruz as a “vulnerable” adult a few days before he bought a gun.
McNeill said the prosecution wants to put the jurors in “a place of hate and vengeance” and she asked the jurors to “calm down, cool down, take a break, take a pause,” so they don’t make a decision in an “emotional” state.
“In a death penalty sentencing procedure, you have to use your heart,” McNeill said.
McNeill said she doesn’t want the jurors to later regret their decision, so she asked them to take their time during deliberation. She urged them to demonstrate “courage and bravery and independence” by making an “unpopular” decision.
“You must be willing to do what is uncomfortable,” McNeill told the jurors.
McNeill said the defense is asking the jury to punish Cruz and to punish him severely by sending him to prison for the rest of his life.
McNeill said the death penalty has no place in a civilized society. She said mercy is what makes humans civilized and what puts an end to violence.
“Holding the weight of another person’s life in your hands is a tremendous responsibility,” McNeill said.
McNeill ended her closing statement with a charge for the jury: “I now put in your hands his life.”
Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder last year. The murder counts allowed only two sentences: Life in prison without the possibility of parole or death.
The prosecution rested on Aug. 4 after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, and the public defenders who are trying to save his life rested on Sept. 14 after calling 26 witnesses in 11 days. The prosecution continued with rebuttal and rested on Sept. 27 after calling seven witnesses during four days in court.
Florida requires a jury’s unanimous vote to recommend death for each of the 17 counts of murder. But only one death verdict out of the 17 is enough for Scherer to consider the death penalty.
If Scherer sentences Cruz to the death penalty, and he has exhausted all appeals, then Cruz will face execution.
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