WATCH LIVE: Parkland school shooter’s death penalty phase continues
The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter are preparing to listen to more witness testimony from the defense during his trial’s death penalty phase on Thursday in Broward County court in Fort Lauderdale.
A teacher was waiting to testify about how Nikolas Cruz’s behavior frightened her. Attorneys argued whether or not to admit some of his drawings including Nazi symbols. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the defense’s motion to redact the Nazi symbols.
“It’s just one of those prejudicial hate symbols in the world,” Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis said about the swastikas Cruz drew and how these could influence the jury’s final decision.
Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill delivered her opening statement on Aug. 22 to attribute the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland to Cruz being “damaged.”
The defense has presented 19 witnesses in seven days, including Cruz’s biological half-sister and a recovering addict who was arrested with his biological mother for cocaine possession when she was pregnant with Cruz. The defense also called two psychiatrists and a clinical psychologist who treated Cruz for ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder.
During cross-examination, prosecutors sought to establish that Cruz’s mental health disorders and developmental delays were not “severe enough” to explain why at 19 he walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s 1200 building with a loaded AR-15 to kill.
In October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
The prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty for Cruz rested their case on Aug. 4, after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, including the 17 survivors injured and the loved ones of the 17 killed who read victim impact statements. The defense team has over 80 witnesses, according to McNeill.
The defense needs only 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 culpability of a criminal act and leads to harsher punishment. The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty focuses on evidence to support this.
Mitigating: Lessens the severity or culpability of a criminal act. The defense team that is working to save Cruz’s life is presenting evidence to support this.
Mitigation specialist: A member of the defense team whose task is to persuade a jury not to impose the death penalty.