Jurors to view Parkland high school massacre crime scene

Posted at 6:48 PM, September 16, 2021 and last updated 2:08 PM, July 7, 2023

By Katie McLaughlin, Court TV

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A Broward County, Florida, judge has ruled the jury in the case against Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz will tour the crime scene at the gunman’s upcoming trial.

With an AR-15 rifle in hand, Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others. The Valentine’s Day tragedy remains one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

FILE – Nikolas Cruz appears at a hearing in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. Cruz is charged with fatally shooting 17 people and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Cruz, a former student, was 19 at the time. He confessed to being the shooter.

Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied a defense motion asking her to stop the prosecution from leading jurors in the footsteps Cruz took on the day of the mass shooting.

Scherer had previously approved the walk-through, but Cruz’s defense team requested she reconsider, arguing that a trip to the now-shuttered campus would impact Cruz’s chances of getting a fair trial by unnecessarily traumatizing the jury.

The defense’s 87-page response to the motion countered that allowing the request would overwhelm the jury with “vicarious trauma” and make it impossible for them to return to a fair trial and verdict.

The prosecution, however, argued that jurors have a right to the facts, and that the tour would provide the clarity, in terms of witness testimony, that cannot be replicated in the courtroom.

FILE – In this Feb. 17, 2018, file photo, an early morning fog rises where 17 memorial crosses were placed for the 17 students and faculty killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

The state argued that the thousands of crime scene photos, post-mortem pictures of each deceased victim, surveillance videos, testimonies from survivors, and still photos taken with a 360-degree camera would not be enough for jurors to fully grasp the extent of the shooting.

Cruz, now 22, faces the death penalty if convicted of any one of the 17 first-degree murder charges against him. The defendant, through his attorneys, offered to plead guilty to all charges in exchange for a life sentence, but the prosecution rejected that offer.

Court TV’s Tiffany Smith contributed to this story.