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In closing arguments, Parkland trial lawyers battle over death penalty

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill gives her 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 on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel
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South Florida Sun Sentinel
Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill gives her 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 on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.

Whether the man who killed 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 will get the death penalty is now in the hands of the jury.

During closing arguments Tuesday, lawyers battled over what punishment Nikolas Cruz deserves. The closing arguments were an accumulation of the months-long trial which brought jurors evidence of the massacre and previously unknown facts about his childhood.

Prosecutors presented the shooter as an antisocial and violent man who wanted to kill for years before the shooting.

"I suggest that every YouTube comment, every search, you can review while you're deliberating," lead prosecutor Mike Satz told the jury. "Because what one writes, what one says, is a window into someone's soul."

He approached the arguments with more emotion than his opening statements. He recounted in detail the day of the shooting. "The testimony revealed the unspeakable, horrific brutality and the unrelentless cruelty that the defendant performed," Satz said.

Head defense attorney Melisa McNeill told jurors that Cruz already admitted his guilt and should be punished, just not with the death penalty.

"Sentencing Nicholas to death, extinguishing his life, will not make those problems go away. Sentencing Nicholas to death will change absolutely nothing," she told the jury. "It will not bring back those 17 innocent victims that he viciously murdered. It won't"

McNeill revisited the story of the drug and alcohol usage by Cruz's birth mother Brenda Woodard. She traced his troubled childhood through different schools where his behavior was clearly documented and problematic.

"You now know that Nicolas is a brain a damaged, broken, mentally ill person through no fault of his own. He was literally poisoned in Brenda's womb," she said.

Jurors will now have to look at several months-worth of evidence and weigh what punishment the shooter deserves.

They assign their own weight to aggravating circumstances, presented by the prosecutors, and mitigating factors, presented by the defense. They have been instructed that aggravating circumstances need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before mitigating factors are even considered.

Jurors need to be unanimous on each of the 17 counts for a death penalty.
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Gerard Albert III