A jury made up of seven men and five women judges Nikolas Cruz, 23, the confessed author of the shooting at the Parkland (Florida) institute that claimed 17 lives in 2018. The trial, which is scheduled continues for four months, it is celebrated amid great media expectation in Fort Lauderdale, near Miami, due to the very delay of the process due to the pandemic and because the echo of that massacre resonates again in repeated attacks on educational centers . The last one, at the end of May in Uvalde (Texas), with a balance of 21 deaths -19 of them schoolchildren-, has also been involved in disgrace after verifying the failures that delayed the police intervention, which contributed to swell the list of victims
The case of Cruz, who was 19 years old when he brandished a semi-automatic rifle in the classrooms of his old school, is unusual: in most of these attacks, the shooter is neutralized by the security forces. He also survived the El Paso massacre in 2019, with 23 dead, and is awaiting trial. But the convulsive process against Cruz adds tension to the cause. Only the selection of the jury took almost three months, almost as long as the expected duration of the trial, which began this Monday with the intervention of the prosecution. Cruz may be sentenced to death or sentenced to death under Florida law. A death penalty would require unanimity on the part of the jury. If even one member disagrees, the young man will spend the rest of his days in jail.
The events surrounding the Parkland massacre, which spurred on a new generation of gun control activists, have been revived this Monday in the presentation of arguments. The prosecutor leading the accusation has spared no details to recreate the terror experienced that Valentine’s Day 2018, listing how many times and where on the body Cruz’s rifle bursts hit each of the fatalities, whom cited with names and surnames. Several relatives of the dead collapsed and one was forced to leave the room.
Cruz had been expelled for indiscipline and behavioral problems from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, and three months before the shooting he had lost his adoptive mother, left adrift, without roots. Factors that, together with details about his mental health, his childhood, the education he received or the therapy he followed, will form the basis of the defense, made up of court-appointed lawyers. The main prosecutor, however, has made it clear that Cruz will not be able to benefit from “any mitigating circumstance” given all the aggravating factors that concur in his action. The current state legislation contemplates 16 possible aggravating circumstances and, according to the indictment, Cruz incurred in seven of them, including premeditation and the special atrocity of the act. The fact that the objective of the attack was to interrupt the activity of an educational center is another.
Last October Cruz pleaded guilty to the death of 14 students and three employees of the center (a teacher, a sports director and a coach) although he faces a total of 34 charges: 17 for murder and as many for attempted murder of the survivors. According to the accusation, Cruz fired 139 times with a semi-automatic rifle, a weapon commonly used in this type of mass shooting and whose use once again becomes ammunition for the heated political debate on the legal age necessary for the purchase or possession of this weaponry. Some States with more restrictive legislation, such as New York, have raised the minimum age to 21 years, while other recent cases, such as those of Buffalo, Uvalde or Chicago, show how easy it is for 18-year-olds to equip themselves with such a deadly instrument.
A month after Cruz’s guilty plea last November, the Justice Department announced that the 17 survivors and relatives of the fatal victims will receive $127 million because the FBI failed to investigate the killer despite receiving a complaint about his murder. “erratic behavior”. Another unfortunately common fact, always discovered a posteriori, in the conduct of the perpetrators of mass shootings, such as the prior threats made by the murderer in Buffalo or the one in Highland Park, the Chicago suburb that saw the last July 4th parade truncated .
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The process has suffered considerable delays, first due to the pandemic, but also due to the extra time requested by the defense and the prosecution to better elaborate their allegations. In June Cruz’s defense tried to delay the deliberations arguing that the recent shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde and a hospital in Tulsa (Oklahoma), with 35 fatalities in total, could influence the jury. The request was denied.
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