WATCH LIVE: Parkland school shooter’s defense to continue presenting case
The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter plan to listen to more witness testimony from the defense during his trial’s death penalty phase on Friday morning in Broward County court in Fort Lauderdale.
On Thursday, Carrie Yon, a teacher who met Nikolas Cruz as an eighth-grade Westglades Middle School student in her language arts classroom, and John Vesey, the former Westglades Middle principal, testified. Yon described him as an attention-seeking bully and Versey said he left a trail of “disgusting vulgarities.”
Also, Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill filed a motion for a mistrial and warned she was preparing to file a motion to prevent the state from seeking the death penalty after reporting alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the motion for mistrial and said the other motion could be handled next week.
McNeill delivered her opening statement on Aug. 22 to attribute the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland to Cruz being “damaged.” She later said the defense team had over 80 witnesses.
The defense has presented 21 witnesses in eight 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 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.
Prejudicial: The term is used to describe evidence with the potential of causing the jury to develop an unfair bias against Cruz.