NewsParkland Shooting


Prosecutor describes Nikolas Cruz's plan to murder children, caretakers as 'systematic massacre'

Defense attorney says life sentence 'is the right thing to do'
Mike Satz makes closing arguments in penalty phase of murder trial for Nikolas Cruz, Oct. 11, 2022
Posted at 8:46 AM, Oct 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-11 17:26:48-04

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — After months of testimony, the sentencing trial of convicted Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is nearing its end.

Attorneys made their closing arguments Tuesday, asking a jury of seven men and five women to decide whether Cruz should be sentenced to life in prison or executed for his crimes.

Cruz, now 24, pleaded guilty last October to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

"What he wanted to do, what his plan was and what he did was to murder children at school and their caretakers," Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz said. "That's what he wanted to do. That's what he planned to do, that's what he wanted to do and that's what he did, and he picked Valentine's Day to do it while school was in session."

WATCH: Mike Satz calls Nikolas Cruz's 'goal-directed' plan to kill children 'a systematic massacre'

Mike Satz calls Nikolas Cruz's 'goal-directed' plan to kill children 'a systematic massacre'

Satz said Cruz's plan "was goal-directed, it was calculated, it was purposeful and it was a systematic massacre."

When lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill made her closing arguments, she held a stack of court papers while speaking to the jury, repeatedly calling Cruz by his first name.

"I, like Mr. Satz, encourage you to read every single document," McNeill said, pointing to a table with stacks of folders containing court records.

The penalty phase of the murder trial, which began July 18, has been plagued with setbacks and surprises, most notably last month when McNeill abruptly rested after calling less than half of the listed witnesses for the defense, angering Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer.

That prompted the defense team to ask for Scherer to step down. Scherer denied the request.

For the former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student to receive the death sentence, the jury will have to make the recommendation for each of the 17 murder victims. That decision must be unanimous. If not, Cruz's sentence would be life in prison without the possibility of parole.

RELATED: Here's what to know about Florida's death penalty

WPTV's Michael Williams spoke to Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was among those killed, on the eve of closing arguments as to the possibility that the jury recommends life instead of death.

WATCH: Tony Montalto speaks with WPTV's Michael Williams

Tony Montalto speaks to WPTV's Michael Williams about possibility that Nikolas Cruz gets life in prison

"How will you cope with that?" Williams asked.

"I really don't know, but just like everything else, we'll do our best," Montalto, who supports the death penalty, told Williams. "We're confident that the jury follows the evidence that was presented, including the shooter's own words about why he chose Valentine's Day, to ruin it for everyone, to the shooter's own words where he says he stopped shooting because he couldn't find anyone else to kill."

McNeill pleaded with jurors to consider Cruz's brain damage suffered at an early age and how the system failed him.

WATCH: Defense attorney Melisa McNeill: 'Sentencing Nikolas Cruz to life is the right thing to do'

Defense attorney Melisa McNeill: 'Sentencing Nikolas Cruz to life is the right thing to do'

"You can show Nikolas Cruz all the things that he did not show those 17 victims," McNeill said. "You can show him the things that he least deserves – compassion, grace and mercy. Grace is not a limited resource. Compassion is not a limited resource. Mercy is not a limited resource. Sentencing Nikolas Cruz to life is the right thing to do. So I now put in your hands his life."

While Satz read all the names of the victims to the jury, Cruz looked down at the defense table, propping his head up with one hand while playing with a pen in the other.

Nikolas Cruz looks down as prosecutor Mike Satz reads names of victims during closing arguments in penalty phase of his murder trial, Oct. 11, 2022
Convicted Parkland school shooter looks down as Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz reads the names of his victims during closing arguments in the penalty phase of his murder trial, Oct. 11, 2022, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"The appropriate sentence for Nikolas Cruz is the death penalty," Satz said.

Jurors will be back in court Wednesday as Scherer reads them jury instructions. They'll then begin deliberating and remain sequestered until they reach a decision.

Watch the closing arguments on and the WPTV app on your phone or your favorite streaming device.