FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – On the first day of deliberation Wednesday, the jury asked to view the AR-15-style rifle that Nikolas Cruz used for the 17 murders during the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Cruz purchased the rifle legally in 2017 and Chief Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz showed it to the jury during witness testimony. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies told her they couldn’t provide it to the jury for “security reasons,” so this was “above” her “pay grade,” and she was going to stay on her lane.
“It is absolutely preposterous. The Sheriff’s Office can’t control what goes back to the jury room. What if it’s a machete? A machete is more dangerous than a rifle without any bullets,” Satz told Scherer adding that BSO deputies were the ones getting in her lane.
Scherer said Capt. Osvaldo “Ozzy” Tianga assured her it would be taken care of Thursday morning. She dismissed the jurors to the “top secret” hotel where they won’t have access to the internet and won’t be allowed to watch the news or read legal books and said they will be back in court at 9 a.m. She asked the attorneys to return at 8:30 a.m.
Local 10 News requested a statement from BSO about their inability to respond to the jury’s request — halting deliberations late Wednesday afternoon — but didn’t receive a response.
Watch the video of the discussion
JURORS’ FIRST REQUESTS
Before the jury’s deliberation began Wednesday morning, Scherer read instructions to set the parameters of their decision on the punishment that Cruz, now 24, should face. They have two options for each of the 17 murder counts: Life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
After a few hours of deliberating, the jurors had three requests for Scherer. They wanted The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and a copy of the guidelines by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
They also requested sections of the transcripts for two expert witnesses who are neuropsychologists: Paul Connor, who testified for the defense on Sept. 12 and Sept. 13, and Robert L. Denney, who testified for the prosecution on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4 during rebuttal.
Deputies had escorted Cruz to a holding cell in the courthouse, so they brought him back to the courtroom where he remained while the judge answered the jury’s requests. The families of the victims were waiting on the 13th floor of the courthouse and they too returned to the courtroom.
Scherer said the manual and the CDC guidelines were not placed into evidence, so that request was denied. The court reporter read a part of the transcript that the jurors requested when the jury’s foreman said they no longer needed to hear the rest.
JUDGE CHARGES JURY
Related document: View the jury instructions
The prosecution team that is asking the jury to recommend the death penalty listed seven aggravating circumstances that increase the severity or culpability. Scherer said two of the factors apply to Broward County Public Schools employees Christopher Hixon, Aaron Feis, and Scott Beigel.
The defense team that is asking the jury to recommend a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole listed 40 mitigating factors that they argued lessen his culpability. These include evidence of Cruz’s mental health challenges, remorse, and the alleged alcohol abuse of his adoptive mother and biological mother.
Related story: Factors and circumstances jury is considering
Scherer said the jury will receive 17 jury verdict forms, one for each of the murder victims. Fourteen of the 17 forms apply to the students’ murders, so the list of questions refers to the first five aggravating circumstances listed. The other three forms apply to Hixon, Feis, and Beigel, and include the two additional factors that apply to their roles as public employees.
Scherer asked the jury to weigh the reliability of the evidence and testimony and to consider the expert witnesses’ opinions based on their knowledge and expertise. She also gave the jurors 14 rules for deliberations and asked them to select a foreperson who will sign each of the 17 verdict forms before submission to the court.
The 12 jurors and the 10 alternate jurors arrived with their luggage at the courthouse on Wednesday morning. Scherer told the 10 alternate jurors, who she referred to as “co-pilots,” that they will not be able to watch or read the news on the case or talk about the case to anyone until the court says so and they were able to go home with a certificate of appreciation.
Scherer also asked the 10 alternate jurors to leave their notepads in court before leaving and said these and the 12 jurors’ notepads will be destroyed after the case is closed.
Scherer read the list of the 17 counts:
Count 1: Luke Hoyer
Count 2: Martin Duque
Count 3: Gina Montalto
Count 4: Alex Schachter
Count 5: Alaina Petty
Count 6: Alyssa Alhadeff
Count 7: Nicholas Dworet
Count 8: Helena Ramsay
Count 9: Christopher Hixon
Count 10: Carmen Schentrup
Count 11: Aaron Feis
Count 12: Scott Beigel
Count 13: Meadow Pollack
Count 14: Cara Loughran
Count 15: Joaquin Oliver
Count 16: Jaime Guttenberg
Count 17: Peter Wang
Watch the 12 p.m. report
Watch the 3 p.m. report
Watch the 4 p.m. report
Watch the 5 p.m. report
Watch the 6 p.m. report
Watch the 11 p.m. report