WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — More than four years after the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, the penalty phase will begin for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz.
Jury selection begins Monday at the Broward County Courthouse. Twelve jurors and six to eight alternates will be selected to determine if Cruz will spend the rest of his life in prison, without the possibility of parole, or if he will be sentenced to death.
"This penalty phase jury is going to see every photograph. This penalty phase jury is going to learn about every victim," Tom Bakkedahl, the state attorney for the 19th Judicial Circuit on the Treasure Coast and in Okeechobee County, said.
Bakkedahl is not involved with the case, but he said for the jury to recommend the death penalty, prosecutors must prove aggravating factors, which include "heinous," "atrocious" and "cruel," and that Cruz "knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons."
"In the absence of an aggravating factor, the death penalty is off the table," Bakkedahl said.
Cruz admitted to the massacre and pleaded guilty in October to killing 17 people and injuring 17 others inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.
"The defense's job is to minimize the damage here," WPTV legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Michelle Suskauer said. "It is to save their client's life."
Suskauer is also not involved in the case, but she said the defense will present mitigating factors and will dissect Cruz's background.
"His mental health history, his educational history, his family history, and bring in witnesses and experts," Suskauer said.
Florida's death penalty law changed in 2017. Now, all 12 jurors must agree, and a death sentence needs to be unanimous.
"Is anything a slam dunk? No, nothing is a slam dunk here because, again, we're talking about the ultimate penalty, which is death," Suskauer said.
Jury selection is expected to take several weeks. Once a jury is seated, testimony could last four to six months.