Nikolas Cruz’s Sentencing Trial

(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and repeatedly fired a gun at students and teachers. His shots injured 17 and killed 17.

Now four years later, a jury will determine what the punishment for his actions will be.

The jury will decide if Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison or death.

A Trial to Determine the Punishment for a Horrific Shooting

There is no question that Cruz is responsible for the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The evidence is abundant, and Cruz didn’t challenge the charges against him.

Cruz plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Because Cruz plead guilty, there was no trial to determine his guilt, but there is now a trial to determine the punishment for his crimes.

The trial will determine if Cruz, now 23, will be sentenced to life in prison or death.

How Does the Sentencing Trial Work?

The trial process began by selecting 12 jurors and two alternatives. It took three months to choose the seven men and five women for the jury, as reported by NBC Miami.

The jury is responsible for listening to the prosecution’s case and reasons for why Cruz should receive the death penalty, as well as listening to the defense’s case for why Cruz’s life should be spared.

For Cruz to get the death penalty, the jury must unanimously vote for the death penalty in at least one of the counts. 

Because 17 people were murdered, there are 17 counts. It will only take one unanimous vote on one of the counts for Cruz to receive the death penalty. But, if just one juror votes against the death penalty in each count, Cruz will receive a life sentence.

Related: Dealing With the Media During a High-Profile Case: What to Expect

The Defense Presents Its Case

The trial started with the defense laying out their arguments for why Cruz’s life should be spared. On August 22, the defense presented opening statements and began calling witnesses.

The defense team brought in 25 witnesses over eleven days. Witnesses ranged from Cruz’s half-sister who testified that she saw her mother using drugs while pregnant with Cruz to Cruz’s former teachers and principal who discussed behavioral issues that Cruz had as a young child.

The defense tried to make the case that Cruz’s troubled history is what left Cruz physically, mentally, and emotionally unstable.

On September 14, with roughly 40 more witnesses on their list, the defense suddenly rested their case — to the surprise of the judge.

Related: What Does It Take to Be an Attorney for a High-Profile Case? 

Sparks Between the Judge and the Defense

On September 14, Judge Elizabeth Scherer was visibly upset when the defense unexpectedly rested their case just moments before the jury was supposed to walk into the courtroom.

The defense started the day by resting their case without prior notice, which meant prosecutors weren’t ready to present their case and the entire court would need to be dismissed for the day.

Judge Scherer was not pleased with the defense and let them know. She said, “I just want to say this is the most uncalled for, unprofessional way to try the case.”

Melisa McNeill, a member of the defense team, attempted to respond, but she was cut off by Judge Scherer. “You know what, I don’t want to hear it,” Judge Scherer said.

Two days later, the defense filed a motion asking the judge to disqualify herself from the case. The defense argued that Judge Scherer showed animosity toward lead defense attorney Melisa McNeil and that, “Mr. Cruz has a reasonable belief that the rulings of the Court have been influenced by its adverse feelings.”

Judge Scherer denied the motion and will remain on the case.

The Prosecution Begins Their Rebuttal

Now that the defense has rested, prosecutors have started to present evidence rebutting the defense’s case. After a short delay due to Hurricane Ian, the prosecutors are back to challenging the narratives presented by the defense and bringing in their own witnesses.

Once the defense rests, Cruz’s future will be in the hands of the jury.

The jury can choose to sentence him to life in prison or unanimously hand down the death penalty.

Related: What to Ask During a Free Consultation with a Lawyer

Have a Trusted Attorney By Your Side

Court cases can have unexpected challenges, twists, and turns, no matter what side of the courtroom you are on. If you are involved in a legal matter, make sure you have a trusted attorney on your side to guide you through the complicated legal process. If you have a case to discuss, see how TJ Grimaldi can help. Call now or schedule your meeting to see how TJ can be a trusted attorney by your side.

Standing Against Gun Violence

TJ Grimaldi is proud to stand with the victims of gun violence.

TJ is an Executive Director and Board Member of The Oulson Family Foundation which provides funds to help kids get what they need in the wake of being directly or indirectly impacted by gun violence. The organization was created to honor the life and legacy of Chad Oulson, whose life ended in a senseless act of gun violence. Learn more about The Oulson Family Foundation and see how you can also help victims of gun violence.

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