FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Prosecutors on Monday began laying out their case for why Nikolas Cruz — the admitted gunman who slaughtered 17 innocents in the 2018 school massacre in Parkland — deserves the death penalty.
In openings at Cruz’s Fort Lauderdale sentencing trial, lead prosecutor Mike Satz told jurors that the mass murderer’s premeditated and merciless depravity warranted execution rather than life without parole.
“I’m going to speak to you about the unspeakable,” Satz said. “About this defendant’s goal-directed, planned, systematic murder — mass murder — of 14 children, an athletic director, a teacher and a coach.”
The prosecutor read out a message Cruz posted in the days before the attack that giddily laid out his lethal mission.
“I think it’s going to be a big event,” Satz recited. “And when you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am. You’re all going to die. Oh yeah, I can’t wait.”
“Cold, calculating, malicious and deadly,” the prosecutor said of the threat.
Cruz, 24, a former student, systematically roamed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, with an AR-15 rifle and fatally sprayed 14 students and three staffers with bullets.
Satz described the massacre in detail, highlighting that Cruz, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, returned to some classrooms he had already riddled with bullets to finish off some of the writhing wounded.
One student, Satz said, was pumped with 13 bullets from the killer’s rifle.
Other victims were coldly cut down while staggering down hallways in a desperate bid to escape the carnage.
Roughly 50 grim-faced relatives and friends of Cruz’s victims filed into the Broward County Courthouse in sweltering South Florida heat, with many dabbing sweat from their faces as they entered.
As Satz recounted the horror during his openings, the mention of specific victim names induced tears and quivering lips among some in the audience.
Others squeezed the hands of their spouses as the prosecutor spoke.
One grieving woman left the courtroom during Satz’s opening graphic narration.
Appearing slight and hunched in a sweater and large glasses, Cruz looked attentive during Monday’s proceeding, occasionally taking notes as his eyes darted around the courtroom.
While Satz summarized his crimes in grisly detail, the defendant sporadically leaned over to confer with one of his attorneys.
Cruz has already pleaded guilty to the slayings and is now attempting to avoid the death penalty in favor of a life sentence.
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors will attempt to convince the seven men and five women of the jury to sentence him to death instead.
Cruz’s attorneys are expected to cite his traumatic upbringing as a mitigating factor in the case, stressing that his childhood was mired in dysfunction, neglect and mental illness.
Satz sought to preempt some of those arguments in his opening statement, asserting that no level of juvenile trauma can lighten the severity of Cruz’s crimes.
“These aggravating factors far outweigh any mitigating circumstances,” he said. “Anything about the defendant’s background. Anything about his childhood. Anything about his schooling. Anything about his mental health. Anything about his therapy. Anything about his care.”
The defense has opted to give their openings later in the trial and the prosecutors will call witnesses this afternoon.
Cruz’s trial, which was repeatedly delayed by COVID-19 and legal wrangling, is expected to last for several months.