The trial against Nikolas Cruz, the admitted gunman in the 2018 school massacre in Parkland, Fla., kicks off Monday — and jurors will decide whether he’ll be given the death penalty or rot in prison instead.
The 12-person jury in Fort Lauderdale will not weigh whether Cruz is guilty in the case, since the mass shooter in October copped to killing 17 people at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, on Feb. 14, 2018.
Instead, the jury — which took nearly three months to select — will deliberate on whether Cruz should be sentenced to capital punishment or life in prison without parole. Only one juror needs to oppose the death penalty for Cruz to receive the lesser sentence of life behind bars.
Cruz, 23, had made prior offers to plead guilty in exchange for avoiding the death penalty, but prosecutors rejected the proposed deals.
The case has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prosecutors’ request for more time to interview mental health experts who are expected to testify on Cruz’s behalf — and because of the painstaking jury selection process that whittled the panel down from a 1,000-person pool.
One protective juror told the judge that she didn’t have time for civic duty because she’s married and entertains a “sugar daddy.”
The jury was finalized late last month with seven men and five women selected, plus 10 alternates.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer earlier this month denied a bid by Cruz’s defense team to further delay the trial over a nationwide “wave of emotions” in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, NY, shootings, which the attorneys argued could influence the jury and deprive their client of a fair trial, Fox News reported.
Cruz — who was 19 at the time of the shooting — pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder for gunning down 14 students and three staff members using an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
He also pleaded guilty to 17 counts of attempted assault, one for each of the people wounded in the slaughter.
In a separate case, he also copped to attacking a Broward County jail guard nine months after he carried out the mass shooting.
“I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day,” Cruz said at the time of his plea hearing.
His defense team is expected to argue that he is mentally ill and intellectually impaired.
Prosecutors have asked a judge to allow a slew of evidence at trial, including Cruz’s racist and homophobic online posts and his online searches for child pornography and animal cruelty.
They claim this evidence proves that while Cruz may suffer from behavioral disorders, he wasn’t mentally unfit or intellectually impaired when he carried out the murders.
The death penalty trial — which is slated to last four to six months — comes on the heels of some of the deadliest shootings in US history, including the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two adults dead and the May 14 Buffalo supermarket shooting that left 10 dead.
The Fourth of July shooting in Highland Park, Illinois — where seven were slain and dozens more were injured — marked the 309th mass shooting in 2022 in the US.