NewsParkland Shooting

Actions

Court hears emotional testimony as Parkland sentencing trial begins

'We were sitting like sitting ducks,' former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student says
Nikolas Cruz, opening statements on sentencing trial, Monday, July 18, 2022.
Posted at 6:18 PM, Jul 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-18 20:03:03-04

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The sentencing trial for Nikolas Cruz finally began Monday in a Broward County courtroom in what is expected to be a long and emotional case, taking months to complete.

Jurors heard heart-wrenching testimony from a student and teacher from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who remembered the violence that unfolded on Valentine’s Day four years ago.

Witness Danielle Gilbert cringed and shed tears on the witness stand. She was a junior at the Parkland school when the shooting occurred.

Cellphone video clips that Gilbert recorded inside the classroom were shown to the jury. Audio included multiple gunshots as a fire alarm sounded.

Danielle Gilbert, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, testifies in court on July 18, 2022, for the sentencing trial of Nikolas Cruz.
Danielle Gilbert, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, testifies in court on July 18, 2022, for the sentencing trial of Nikolas Cruz.

"We were sitting like sitting ducks," Gilbert said. "We had no way to defend ourselves."

Her story was similar to Brittany Sinitch, a teacher who took the stand and recalled the exact moment when a Valentine’s Day project with her students turned to darkness.

"We were having so much fun until I heard what I described as the loudest noise you could possibly imagine," Sinitch said.

She recalled that she quickly shielded her students from danger. Her frantic call to 911 was inaudible because the gunshots were so loud.

State witness Brittany Sinitch, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries during direct examination in the penalty trial of Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, July 18, 2022.
State witness Brittany Sinitch, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries during direct examination in the penalty trial of Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, July 18, 2022.

Families of the victims who were in court became overwhelmed hearing the testimony and video that was played in court.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, calling Cruz's actions cold and calculated.

On Monday, they highlighted a video that Cruz recorded days before the shooting.

Max Schachter reacts as video and audio are played from inside a classroom as bullets are fired into it during the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, July 18, 2022. His son Alex was killed in the shooting.
Max Schachter reacts as video and audio are played from inside a classroom as bullets are fired into it during the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, July 18, 2022. His son Alex was killed in the shooting.

"This is what the defendant said: 'Hello, my name is Nik. I'm going to be the next school shooter of 2018. My goal is at least 20 people with an AR-15 and some tracer rounds. It’s going to be a big event, and when you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am. You’re all going to die. Ah yeah, I can't wait,'" prosecutor Mike Satz said.

The court only heard from prosecutors Monday.

The defense plans to deliver its opening statements when they present its case in the coming weeks.