Attorneys argue over school shooter’s fate: death or prison

Oct 11, 2022, 7:44 AM | Updated: 5:18 pm
Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of...

Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The prosecutor and defense attorney for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz agreed Tuesday that his 2018 attack that killed 17 people was horrible, but disagreed in their closing arguments on whether it was an act of evil worthy of execution or one of a broken person who should be imprisoned for life.

Lead prosecutor Mike Satz and his defense counterpart, Melisa McNeill, painted for the 12 jurors competing pictures of what drove Cruz’s attack at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.

For Satz, Cruz was driven by antisocial personality disorder — in lay terms, he’s a sociopath. He deserves a death sentence because he “was hunting his victims” as he stalked a three-story classroom building for seven minutes. He fired his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle into some victims at close range and returned to wounded victims as they lay helpless “to finish them off.”

Satz pointed to Cruz’s internet writings and videos, where he talked about his murderous desires such as when he wrote, “No mercy, no questions, double tap. I am going to kill a … ton of people and children.”

“It is said that what one writes and says is a window into their soul,” Satz said as the three-month trial neared its conclusion. The killings, he said, “were unrelentlessly heinous, atrocious and cruel.”

McNeill said neither Cruz nor herself has ever denied what he did and that “he knew right from wrong and he chose wrong.” But she said the former Stoneman Douglas student is “a broken, brain-damaged, mentally ill young man,” doomed from conception by the heavy drinking and drug use of his birth mother during pregnancy. She argued for a sentence of life without parole, assuring them he will never walk free again.

“It’s the right thing to do. Mercy is what makes us civilized. Giving mercy to Nikolas will say more about who you are than it will ever say about him,” McNeill told the jury.

Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty a year ago to murdering 14 students and three staff members and wounding 17 others.

The jury will only decide his sentence, and a unanimous vote is required for death. Jurors can vote for death if they believe the prosecution’s aggravating factors such as the multiple deaths and the planning outweigh the defense’s mitigating circumstances such as his birth mother’s drinking. They can also vote for life out of mercy for Cruz. Deliberations are expected to begin Wednesday.

Cruz, dressed in an off-white sweater, sat impassively during the presentations, occasionally exchanging notes with his attorneys. A large number of the victims’ parents, wives and family members packed their section of the courtroom, many of them weeping during Satz’s presentation. The mother of a murdered 14-year-old girl fled the courtroom before bursting into loud sobs in the hallway. Just minutes earlier, the families had greeted each other with smiles, handshakes and hugs.

Satz meticulously went through the murders, reminding the jurors how each victim died and how Cruz looked some in the eye before he shot them multiple times.

“They all knew what was going on, what was going to happen,” Satz said.

As he had during the trial, Satz played security videos of the shooting and showed photos. He talked about the death of one 14-year-old girl. Cruz shot her and then went back to shoot her again, putting his gun against her chest.

“Right on her skin. She was shot four times and she died,” Satz said. He then noted a YouTube comment, which jurors saw during the trial, in which Cruz said: “I don’t mind shooting a girl in the chest.”

“That’s exactly what he did,” Satz said.

His voice breaking, Satz concluded his two-hour presentation by reciting the victims’ names, then saying that for their murders “the appropriate sentence for Nikolas Cruz is the death penalty.”

McNeill during her presentation acknowledged the horror Cruz inflicted and said jurors have every right to be angry, “but how many times have we made decisions based solely on anger and regretted it?”

She focused on her belief that heavy drinking by his birth mother, Brenda Woodard, during pregnancy left him with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. She said that accounts for his bizarre, troubling and sometimes violent behavior starting at age 2.

“There is no time in our lives when we are more vulnerable to the will and the whims of another human being than when we are growing and developing in the wombs of our mothers,” McNeill said. Woodard “poisoned him in the womb. He was doomed in the womb.”

She said Cruz’s increasingly erratic personality left his widowed adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, overwhelmed. He punched holes in walls when he lost video games, destroyed furniture and killed animals. Visitors described the home as “a war zone,” McNeill said.

She pleaded with the jurors to give Cruz a life sentence, telling them that even if they are the only holdout they shouldn’t fear what the reaction will be from the families or the community.

Gesturing toward the victims’ families, she said, “There is no punishment you could ever give Nikolas Cruz that would ever make him suffer as much as those people have and as much as they will continue to suffer every single day.”

“Sentencing Nikolas to death will not change that. It will not bring back those 17 dead people. Sentencing Nikolas to death will literally serve no purpose other than vengeance,” she said. Instead, she said, “Look into your heart. Look into your soul. The right thing here, not the popular thing, is a life sentence.”

Cruz’s massacre is the deadliest mass shooting that has ever gone to trial in the U.S. Nine other people in the U.S. who fatally shot at least 17 people died during or immediately after their attacks by suicide or police gunfire. The suspect in the 2019 massacre of 23 at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart is awaiting trial.

___

Associated Press reporters Freida Frisaro in Miami and Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks just prior to closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Lori Alhadeff leaves the courtroom as Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz details the killings in his closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Alhadeff's daughter, Alyssa, was killed in the 2018 shootings. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Family members of those killed enter the a courtroom at the Broward County Courthouse, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale,Fla. Closing arguments are expected in the penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz, who faces a possible death sentence for murdering 17 people at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School more than four years ago. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, Pool)
            
              Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is seated at the defense table for closing arguments in the penalty phase of Cruz's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill enters the a courtroom at the Broward County Courthouse, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Closing arguments are expected in the penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz, who faces a possible death sentence for murdering 17 people at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School more than four years ago. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, Pool)
            
              Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz gestures as if he is holding a rifle while giving his closing argument in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            
              Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz sits at the defense table for closing arguments in the penalty phase of Cruz's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)
            Family members of those killed enter the a courtroom at the Broward County Courthouse, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Closing arguments are expected in the penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz, who faces a possible death sentence for murdering 17 people at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School more than four years ago. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, Pool) Judge Elizabeth Scherer speaks to, from left; Assistant State Attorneys Jeff Marcus and Carolyn McCann, and Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill during a hearing in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool) Assistant Public Defender Tamara Curtis, right, speaks during a hearing in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill and capital defense attorney Casey Secor are shown at left. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool) Capital defense attorney Casey Secor, center, speaks with Assistant Public Defenders Nawal Bashimam, left, and Tamara Curtis during a hearing in the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

AP

FILE - Florida state Rep. Joe Harding listens during a Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Su...
Associated Press

Florida lawmaker indicted, accused of fraud on virus loan

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida state Rep. Joe Harding has been indicted on charges of defrauding a federal loan program intended to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Wednesday. Federal prosecutors said Harding, 35, illegally obtained or tried to obtain more than $150,000 from the Small Business Administration in pandemic aid loans. […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Pentagon splits $9 billion cloud contract between 4 firms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Google, Oracle, Microsoft and Amazon will share in the Pentagon’s $9 billion contract to build its cloud computing network, a year after accusations of politicization over the previously announced contract and a protracted legal battle resulted in the military starting over in its award process. The Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability is envisioned […]
16 hours ago
FILE - The Apple logo is illuminated at a store in the city center in Munich, Germany, on Dec. 16, ...
Associated Press

Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted

BOSTON (AP) — As part of an ongoing privacy push, Apple said Wednesday it will now offer full end-to-encryption for nearly all the data its users store in its global cloud-based storage system. That will make it more difficult for hackers, spies and law enforcement agencies to access sensitive user information. The world’s most valuable […]
16 hours ago
FILE - A group of visitors return to Stephen C. Foster State Park after an overnight camping trip o...
Associated Press

Interior secretary: `Unacceptable’ to mine near famed swamp

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet is urging Georgia officials to deny permits for a proposed mine near the edge of the famed Okefenokee Swamp and its vast wildlife refuge, saying the plan poses “unacceptable risk” to the swamp’s fragile ecology. “I write to express serious concerns regarding proposed mining […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

How major US stock indexes fared Wednesday 12/7/2022

More weakness in tech stocks sent Wall Street mostly lower after another day of wobbly trading. The S&P 500 ended 0.2% lower Wednesday, its fifth straight loss. The Nasdaq, which is heavily weighted with tech companies, lost 0.5%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended just barely in the green. Treasury yields fell. Campbell Soup rose […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Campbell, MongoDB rise; Smith & Wesson, AeroVironment fall

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks that traded heavily or had substantial price changes Wednesday: Mastercard Inc., down 11 cents to $347.42. The processor of debit and credit card payments raised its dividend and approved a $9 billion stock buyback program. Pinterest Inc., down 4 cents to $22.68. The digital pinboard and shopping tool company announced […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Attorneys argue over school shooter’s fate: death or prison