Parkland school shooter’s death sentence phase continues with witness testimony

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida. –Jurors who will decide the fate of the Parkland school shooter will hear from more defense witnesses during the death-sentence phase of his trial Wednesday in Broward County Court in Fort Lauderdale.

Deputy Public Defender Melisa McNeill gave her opening statement Aug. 22 to attribute the 2018 Valentine’s Day Massacre in Parkland to Nikolas Cruz being “damaged.”

The defense presented 16 witnesses over six days, including Cruz’s biological half-sister and a recovering drug addict who was arrested along with her biological mother for cocaine possession while pregnant with Cruz. The defense also called two psychiatrists and a clinical psychologist who treated Cruz for ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder.

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During cross-examination, prosecutors sought to establish that Cruz’s mental health issues and developmental delays were not “serious enough” to explain why, at age 19, he entered the 1200 building of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a loaded AR-15 to kill.

In October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Prosecutors seeking the death penalty for Cruz closed their case Aug. 4, after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, including the 17 injured survivors and relatives of the 17 killed who read victim impact statements. The defense team has more than 80 witnesses, according to McNeill.

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The defense only needs one of the 12 jurors to oppose the death sentence. Without a unanimous jury vote, Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

LEGAL TERMS: Aggravating or mitigating factors or circumstances

Aggravating: Increases the severity or guilt of a criminal act and leads to a harsher sentence. The prosecutor’s team seeking the death penalty focuses on supporting evidence.

Mitigation: Decreases the severity or culpability of a criminal act. The defense team working to save Cruz’s life presents supporting evidence.

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Source: Cornell Law School Institute for Legal Information.

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Curtis showed that letter to the jury again on Tuesday.

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