Defense urges Florida jury to spare Parkland school shooter’s life

FILE PHOTO – Shooter Nikolas Cruz of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School holds his head during the sentencing phase of Cruz’s trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US Aug. 4, 2022. Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Pool via REUTERS

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Aug 22 (Reuters) – A defense attorney on Monday pleaded with a Florida jury to spare the life of Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people in a 2018 high school shooting in the city of Parkland, citing associated brain damage with fetal exposure to drugs and alcohol reason not to impose the death penalty.

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty last October to first-degree murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 31 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, in one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. Cruz killed 14 students and three employees. read more

Melisa McNeil, Cruz’s chief public defender, told the 12 Broward County jurors that he should face life without parole due to extenuating factors, including lifelong developmental delays and mental disorders that resulted from his birth mother’s drug and alcohol abuse. during the pregnancy.

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“As a result, his brain was broken beyond repair, through no fault of his own,” McNeil told the jury.

Among the witnesses McNeil called after making her opening statement was Cruz’s half-sister, Danielle Woodard, who tearfully testified that their mother drank heavily and used drugs, including cocaine, while pregnant with Cruz.

Jurors must decide whether to sentence him to death or to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Prosecutor Michael Satz told jurors in July that Cruz, a 19-year-old student who had been expelled from school at the time of the shooting, should be put to death for “targeted, planned, systematic murder – mass murder – of 14 students, a athletic director, a teacher and a coach.” read more

McNeil Monday acknowledged the horror of Cruz’s crime, but reminded jurors that they were not required to vote for death, even “in the worst case scenario. And arguably this is the worst case scenario.”

Under Florida law, a jury must be unanimous in its decision to order a judge to sentence Cruz to execution.

When he pleaded guilty, Cruz said he was “deeply sorry” and asked if he had the chance to help others. read more

The start last month of the sentencing phase of the trial included testimonials from students who were at school that day and cell phone videos of terrified students crying out for help or speaking in whispers while hiding.

Gun violence in the US has received renewed attention after recent mass shootings. These included one in July at an Independence Day parade outside Chicago that killed seven people, one in May at a school in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers, and one in May at a grocery store in a predominantly black neighborhood of Buffalo. , New York, killing 10 people.

President Joe Biden signed the first major federal gun reform bill in three decades in June, what he called a rare bipartisan feat. read more

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Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Julia Harte; adaptation by Will Dunham, Donna Bryson and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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