Florida school shooter who killed 17 was ‘damaged person’, lawyer says

Melisa McNeill told the jury of seven men, five women and their 10 deputies in her opening statement that on February 14, 2018, Cruz committed a horrific and indescribable act when he murdered 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. , but he was a damaged person whose biological mother abused alcohol and cocaine during her pregnancy.

We need to understand the person behind the crime, said McNeill, an assistant attorney.

cruz. 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 first-degree murders and his trial will only have to decide whether he is sentenced to death or life without parole.

It is the deadliest US mass shooting ever. Nine other gunmen who killed at least 17 people died during or immediately after their shooting, either by suicide or by police gunfire.

The suspect in the 2019 murder of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, awaits trial.

I stand before you today in a space of overwhelming sadness, difficult grief, anger and trauma, McNeill said.

McNeill had postponed his opening statement from the first day of the July 18 trial until the start of his team’s case.

A rare strategy, it appears to be part of a larger plan to acknowledge the horror of Cruz’s massacre, not to annoy jurors by challenging it.

Instead, the defense will focus on what happened to Cruz over the past two decades to create someone capable of shooting others cold during a seven-minute massacre, his mother’s drug and alcohol abuse during pregnancy to the bullying and alleged sexual abuse he endured.

He showed serious mental and emotional problems as early as kindergarten, where he was expelled for hurting other children.

During his public school years, he spent a lot of time in a school for emotionally challenged students before being expelled from Stoneman Douglas about a year before the shooting.

His team will call the first witness later Monday in a case expected to last several weeks.

The trial was adjourned for two weeks before it resumed Monday.

During the prosecution’s three-week closing arguments, the defense rarely questioned witnesses.

They questioned a teacher from a classroom where no one was shot about the lack of a security monitor in the three-story building where the murders took place.

When the owner of the gun store that sold Cruz the AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle used in the murders testified, they asked what the minimum age in Florida was in 2017 to buy a rifle 18 and today, today 21.

Neither she nor the prosecutors then asked the store owner why the law had changed: Cruz was 19 when the shooting happened, and the Republican-led legislature raised the age limit in part of a wider series of gun laws enacted in response to the shootings. .

Cruz’s youth will be part of his defense, and while Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer has barred the defense from presenting testimony that directly blames third parties, such as school administrators, for failing to prevent the shooting, his lawyers will likely try to make such points indirectly. to make.

The defense will attempt to refute the horrific evidence presented by Chief Prosecutor Mike Satz and his team, culminating in the judges’ Aug. 4 visit to the gated building that followed Cruz, with approximately 150 shots fired through the hallways and into classrooms.

Jurors saw dried blood on floors and walls, bullet holes in doors and windows, and remains of balloons, flowers and Valentine’s Day cards.

Prosecutors also presented graphic surveillance videos of the massacre; gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos of its aftermath; touching testimonies from teachers and students who have watched others die; and four days of tearful and angry statements from parents, spouses, and other relatives about the victims and how their loved one’s death affected their lives.

Jurors also watched a video of Cruz quietly ordering an Icee cherry and blue raspberry minutes after the shooting and attacking a prison guard nine months later.

Once the defense has completed its closing arguments, the prosecution will present a rebuttal before each side presents its closing arguments and jury deliberations begin.

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