The rifle that was used to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was shown to the jury at Nikolas Cruz’s trial on Monday. The purpose of showing the jury the murder weapon was to establish that it was, in fact, the gun that Cruz used in the shooting, and to begin the process of having them consider whether he should be sentenced to death.
The lead prosecutor, Mike Satz, took a black semi-automatic Smith & Wesson out of a cardboard box and gave it to Broward sheriff’s Sgt. Gloria Crespo. Crespo said that the gun had been found in a third-floor stairwell after the massacre on February 14th, 2018. Jurors had previously seen a video which showed Cruz placing the gun on the landing before fleeing the school, along with his backpack and the black shooter’s vest he had been wearing.
The defense team objected to the gun being introduced as evidence, saying that it was irrelevant and would prejudice the jury. They also objected to the gun being placed on the floor behind the prosecutor, where it would be in easy view of the jury, instead of on an evidence table further away. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer rejected the objections.
The defense believes that the gun and other evidence, such as surveillance video and crime scene photos, are no longer relevant since Cruz pleaded guilty and that they would only serve to inflame the jurors’ emotions.
The prosecutors have argued that the evidence is necessary to show that the murders included an aggravating factor, for example, being done in a cruel or heinous way, or during a crime that endangered the lives of many people.
Cruz still had five gun magazines with him, containing a total of 160 bullets, when he was finished shooting. Crespo testified that Cruz had fired more than 100 shots during the seven minutes that he stalked the three-story building, shooting down hallways and into classrooms. In addition to the 14 students and three staff members who were killed, 17 other people were wounded.
The jurors were also shown photos Crespo took of the bodies of five students and a teacher who died on the third-floor. These photos were not shown to the parents and family members who were present, but were later shown to reporters in private. It is rare for such photos to be seen by the public, as most mass shooters die during their attacks and never make it to trial.
The crime scene photos depict three deceased individuals lying next to each other in a hallway; a Valentine’s Day stuffed animal is situated near the head of one of the girls. The boy who is lying closest to the girls sustained twelve gunshot wounds, four of which were to the head. The autopsy photos of this boy reveal devastating injuries to his skull and shoulder. One female juror was visibly emotional while viewing these latter photos.
The parents of one boy and the wife of a staff member were crying as the doctors discussed the autopsy of their family member. Other families were holding their hands and rubbing their shoulders, and then hugged them when the session ended.
The most recent showing of evidence to the jury came three days after they were first shown graphic crime scene and autopsy photos. The defense has objected to these photographs being shown, saying that they are unnecessary and only meant to arouse the jurors’ anger.
Earlier today, the jury made up of 7 men and 5 women, as well as their 10 alternates, heard from Laura Zecchini, an Uber driver. Zecchini drove Cruz to the school on the day of the shooting. Cruz appeared to be nervous and was carrying a large black soft-sided carrying case. Cruz told Zecchini that he was going to his music lesson.
Cruz has pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and the jury will now decide if he should be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.
This is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history to go to trial. Out of the nine U.S. gunmen who killed at least 17 people, they all died during or immediately after their shootings, whether it was from suicide or police gunfire. The suspect of the 10th mass shooting, which 23 people died from in El Paso, Texas, is still awaiting trial.
The jurors will vote 17 times on whether to recommend capital punishment, once for each of the victims.
The jury must be unanimous in order to sentence somebody to death, otherwise that person will be sentenced to life. The jurors are told that in order to vote for death, the prosecution’s aggravating circumstances must outweigh the defence’s mitigators. A juror can also vote for life out of mercy. During jury selection, the panelists said that they are capable of voting for either sentence.