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Opening statements begin in Nikolas Cruz sentencing trial

Jury to decide fate of Parkland school shooter
'Parkland Shooter Sentencing'
Posted at 12:43 AM, Jul 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-18 17:48:10-04

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — After months of delays and vetting to find an unbiased jury, opening statements began Monday morning in the sentencing trial of convicted Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz.

A jury of seven men and five women will be tasked with determining whether the 23-year-old gunman lives or dies for his crime.

WATCH LIVE: Click here for opening statements

Lead prosecutor Mike Satz highlighted Cruz's brutality as he stalked a three-story classroom building and fired his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle down hallways and into classrooms. Cruz sometimes walked back to wounded victims and killed them with a second volley of shots.

The prosecutor described Cruz as "cold, calculated, manipulative and deadly," citing a video Cruz made three days before the massacre.

Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz, Monday, July 18, 2022
Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz delivers his opening statement in the penalty phase of the trial of shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, July 18, 2022.

"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.'"

About 50 family members of the victims were in the courtroom, some couples holding hands. Some parents teared up as Satz described the deaths of their children. One mother, crying, got up and left. Others sat stoically, their arms folded across their chests.

Among the first witnesses was Danielle Gilbert, a junior who was in psychology class when the shooting began. The teacher told students to get behind her desk.

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. We had no way to protect ourselves," said Gilbert, who is now a student at the University of Central Florida.

Four people were shot in that room, she said, including one who died.

For Tom Hoyer, the final chapter has been met with patience and insurmountable pain.

"I cope by knowing that this is a chapter of my life that's going to close at some point in the next several months," he recently told WPTV.

Tom Hoyer says he's ready 'to see the chapter close' in Nikolas Cruz saga
"I'm resigned to it going either way, but I'd like to see the chapter close," Tom Hoyer, the father of one of 14 students gunned down in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, tells WPTV as convicted shooter Nikolas Cruz's sentencing trial is expected to begin.

His 15-year-old son, Luke Hoyer, was among the 14 children and three adults killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day in 2018.

Tom Hoyer is certain the painful journey through the penalty phase of the trial won't be met with justice, but perhaps with a sense of closure.

"I don't know what the outcome's going to be," he said. "I'm resigned to it going either way, but I'd like to see the chapter close."

RELATED: Meet lawyers, judge in Parkland shooter's sentencing trial

Nikolas Cruz, opening statements on sentencing trial, Monday, July 18, 2022.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz stands and looks towards the gallery of people in the courtroom for the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, July 18, 2022.

Attorneys for the prosecution and the defense spent three months whittling down a prospective jury pool of about 1,800 people before settling on the 12 jurors and 10 alternates to decide Cruz's fate.

Defense attorneys will try to convince at least one juror as to why Cruz's life should be spared. For Cruz to receive a death sentence, the decision must be unanimous.

RELATED: What to know about Florida's death penalty

"They're going to be talking about the defendant's prior issues with mental health," Melba Pearson, a criminal law attorney who serves as policy director at Florida International University's Center for the Administration of Justice, told WPTV. "They'll be talking about his experience, you know, in his early childhood, not having a stable home, and trying to bring up all of those factors as reasons why he should not be put to death."

The trial is expected to last four months.

Watch gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial on WPTV.com, the WPTV app or your favorite streaming device.

Portions of this article courtesy of the Associated Press