Parkland gunman jurors to visit still-bloodstained school building as death penalty decision looms

Jury member in Trial of Florida School Shooter Nicolas Cruz He is expected to walk through the blood-soaked rooms of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Thursday, where he will tour the three-story building. Murder of 14 students and three staff members four years ago.

The 30-mile stretch from the Broward County Courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale to the suburban school will house a seven-man, five-female jury and 10 alternates amid heavy security. To prevent protesters from disrupting proceedings and to protect the safety of jurors, law enforcement plans to close the area around the school and prevent planes from flying overhead.

The panelists and their law enforcement escort will be accompanied by Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, the prosecutor and Cruise’s attorney. Cruz will not appear, according to one of his lawyers. Prosecutors, who are closing their case, are hoping the visit will help prove that the former Stoneman Douglas student’s actions were cold, calculated, heinous and cruel; posed a great risk of death for many people and “interfered with a government function”—all aggravating factors under Florida’s capital punishment law.

Under Florida court rules, neither judges nor attorneys are allowed to speak to jurors—and jurors are not allowed to converse with each other—when adopted by Cruz on February 14, 2018. traversing the path he left, as he systematically walked from floor to floor, firing in hallways and classrooms. The jury members have already seen surveillance video of the shooting and the photos after it.

Journalists will not be allowed inside and will not be allowed to carry cameras until after the jurors have left.

The building has been sealed off and surrounded by a chain-link fence since the immediate aftermath of the massacre. Known as both the Freshman and 1200 Building, it hovers ominously over the school and its teachers, staff, and 3,300 students, and is easily seen by anyone nearby. The Broward County School District plans to demolish it whenever prosecutors approve. For now, it is a court exhibition.

When Stoneman was Douglas Jr. at the time of the shoot, Kai Koerber said, “When you’re driving, it’s there. When you’re driving to orbit, it’s there. It’s just a giant structure that’s been built.” You can’t remember.” , He is now at the University of California, Berkeley, and a developer of a mental health phone app. “It’s just a constant reminder … it’s very difficult and terrifying.”

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder; The trial is only to determine whether he has been sentenced to death or life without parole.

The building’s interior has been virtually intact since the shooting: bloodstains still smudged on the floor, and bullet holes were on the doors and walls. The windows in the classroom doors are thrown out. Rotten Valentine’s Day flowers, inflated balloons and other gifts are scattered. Only bodies and personal belongings such as backpacks have been removed.

Miami defense attorney David S. Weinstein said prosecutors are hoping the visit “will be the final piece in dispelling any doubt from any jury member that the death penalty is the only recommendation that can be made.”

Visits to such a site are rare. The former prosecutor, Weinstein, said that of more than 150 jury trials in the late 1980s, he only had one.

One reason for their rarity is that they are a nightmare for the judge, who is required to get a jury on location and back to the courthouse without incident or risk of a misdemeanor. And in a typical case, a visit won’t even produce true evidence: After law enforcement leaves, the building or public space returns to its normal use. The scene is cleared, objects are moved and repaired. This is why judges in many cases order jurors not to go to the scene themselves.

Craig Trosino, a law professor at the University of Miami who has represented the defendants appealing his death sentence, said the visit — combined with the myriad graphic videos and photographs the jury has already seen — for Cruz’s lawyers. can open a path if they find themselves in the same situation.

“At some point the evidence becomes inflammatory and biased,” he said. “Site visits can be a cumulative cornerstone.”

Cruz’s lawyers have argued that prosecutors have used the evidence not only to substantiate their case, but to stir up jurors’ passion.

Prosecutors are expected to settle their case soon after the visit.

On Wednesday, the jury also heard statements with greater impact from families who lost loved ones in the massacre, CBS Miami reported,

Among them are Tony and Jennifer Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter, Gina, died.

He described the devastating effects it had on his family.

“Gina was kind, smart, and loved to read,” said her father, Tony, as he saved Gina from drowning a 2-year-old when Gina was just 10.

Max Schachter said that his family is also broken. Their 14-year-old son Alex was killed in the mass shooting.

“A part of me will always be sad,” said Schachter.

His son Brian read a poem that Alex had written before the day of the murders and threw it in the trash.

The poem was titled “Life is like a roller coaster” and describes how the ups and downs of life resemble a fast-moving roller coaster.

Max Schachter has recited the poem on several occasions to honor his son’s memory and to describe the loss of a promising writer.

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