FROM THE BENCH: Parkland School Massacre – Guilt Phase vs. Penalty Phase | Op-Ed

Posted at 1:50 PM, July 20, 2022 and last updated 9:39 AM, November 24, 2022

By: Judge Ashley Willcott

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla (Court TV) – The Parkland School Shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day in 2018 is forever branded on the hearts of most. Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school, was dropped off by Uber at 2:19 p.m. with a rifle case and backpack. He walked “purposely” to one of the school buildings, which typically holds approximately 900 students and 30 teachers, activated the fire alarm, and started shooting indiscriminately at students and teachers. He began on the first floor, then moved to the second floor, and finally the third.

In 6 minutes, Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people (14 students and 3 class members) and injured 17 others.

GUILTY PHASE

Nikolas Cruz was arrested the same day he was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Initially, Cruz pleaded not guilty to all 34 counts. His trial was set and scheduled to be on January 27, 2020. Delays pushed the date out to allow his attorneys more time to prepare for trial. Every defendant has the right to a jury trial, unless the defendant waives it. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove each crime beyond a reasonable doubt. As both sides prepared for an expected trial, the unexpected happened. In October 2021, defendant Nikolas Cruz changed his plea to guilty on all counts. This plea finalized the guilt phase, leading to the penalty phase for Nikolas Cruz.

PENALTY PHASE

The hope of the legal defense team for Cruz was that his life would be spared in exchange for his admission of guilt to all charges. That instead of the state of Florida seeking the death penalty, Cruz would agree to 34 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. This hope was dashed for Cruz when prosecutors continued to seek the death penalty, resulting in the penalty phase. The state must prove to a jury of 12, with ten alternates, that existing required aggravating factors warrant the death penalty. Cruz has the opportunity and right to present mitigating factors to the jury, pleading for a life sentence.

 

Tell us what you think – should Cruz be sentenced to death, since he admitted guilt in one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history?

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