FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Jurors in the penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz watched a graphic video of him killing 17 people on Tuesday as he walked through a three-story classroom at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland four years ago.
The video, compiled from 13 security cameras inside the building, was not shown at the gallery, where the relatives of many of the victims were seated. Prosecutors say it shows Cruz shooting several of his victims at close range, returning to some as they lay injured on the ground to kill them with a second volley of gunfire.
The 12 jurors and 10 alternates were staring intently at their video screens. Many held hands in front of their faces as they watched the 15-minute recording, which has no sound.
Some started squirming. A juror looked at the screen, looked up at Cruz with wide eyes and then returned to the video.
Cruz looked down while the video was playing and didn’t seem to be looking at it. He sometimes looked up to exchange whispers with one of his lawyers.
The video was released over the objection of Cruz’s lawyers, who argued that any probative value it has is outweighed by the emotions it would arouse in jurors. They argued that witness statements about what happened would be sufficient.
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer dismissed the objection, saying a video that accurately reflects Cruz’s crimes does not unfairly prejudice his case. Prosecutors are using the video to prove several aggravating factors, including that Cruz acted in a cold, calculated, and cruel manner.
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder and another 17 counts of attempted murder for those he injured. The jury must decide whether he should be sentenced to death or life without parole in order for the nation’s deadliest mass shooting to stand before a jury.
Later during the second day of the trial, jurors heard testimony from Christopher McKenna, who was a freshman during the February 14, 2018 shooting. He had left his English class to use the bathroom and exchanged greetings with two students, Luke Hoyer and Martin Duque, as they passed each other in the first-floor hallway. McKenna then entered a stairwell and encountered Cruz assembling his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
Cruz, who had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas a year earlier, had entered campus through a gate that had been opened for the end of the school day in about 20 minutes carrying the gun in a bag.
“He said get out of here. Things are about to go wrong,” McKenna recalled.
McKenna sprinted to the parking lot as Cruz entered the hallway and started shooting. McKenna alerted Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach who also served as a security guard. Feis drove McKenna in his golf cart to an adjacent building for safety, then drove to the three-story building from which McKenna fled.
By then, the sounds of gunfire were already echoing across campus. Feis walked in and was shot immediately by Cruz, who had already killed Hoyer, 15, and Duque, 14, and eight others. Cruz then crossed to the second floor, where he fired into the classrooms but did not hit anyone. When he reached the third floor, he killed six more.
Jurors also heard testimony from English teacher Dara Hass, who killed three students and injured several in her classroom when Cruz fired through a window in the door.
“The sound was so loud. The students were screaming,” said Hass, who cried and dabbed his eyes with a tissue during his testimony. She thought it might have been a drill, but then she spotted the body of 14-year-old Alex Schachter, who had been shot and killed in his office.
“That’s when I saw it wasn’t a drill,” she says. Two 14-year-old girls also died in the classroom: Alaina Petty and Alyssa Alhadeff.
When the police arrived and evacuated her students, Hass said she didn’t want to leave, but the officers convinced her.
“I wanted to stay with the students who couldn’t go,” she said, referring to Schachter, Petty and Alhadeff. When prosecutor Mike Satz showed her photos of their bodies in her classroom, she sobbed.
A student in his class, Alexander Dworet, said he originally thought the loud bang was the school marching band but then felt a ‘warm sensation’ in the back of his head where he had been grazed by a bullet and “I realized I was in danger”. He and other students rushed away from the window, using Hass’ desk as a barrier.
Nick, Dworet’s 17-year-old brother, was across the hall in his Holocaust Studies class. Cruz also fired into that classroom, killing him.
Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., contributed to this report.
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