FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Jurors in the penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz viewed graphic video Tuesday of him murdering 17 people as he stalked through a three-story classroom building at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four years ago.
The video, compiled from 13 security cameras inside the building, was not shown to the gallery, where parents of many of the victims sat. Prosecutors say it shows Cruz shooting many of his victims at point-blank range, going back to some as they lay wounded on the floor to kill them with a second volley of shots.
The 12 jurors and 10 alternates stared intently at their video screens. Many held hands to their faces as they viewed the 15-minute recording, which has no sound.
Some started squirming. One juror looked at the screen, looked up at Cruz with his eyes wide and then returned to the video.
Cruz looked down while the video played and did not appear to watch it. He sometimes looked up to exchange whispers with one of his attorneys.
The video was played over the objection of Cruz’s attorneys, who argued that any evidentiary value it has is outweighed by the emotions it would raise in the jurors. They argued that witness statements of 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 17 more counts of attempted murder for those he wounded. The jury must decide if he should be sentenced to death or life without parole for the nation’s deadliest mass shooting to go before a jury.
Later during day two of the trial, jurors heard testimony from Christopher McKenna, who was a freshman during the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting. He had left his English class to go to the bathroom and exchanged greetings with two students, Luke Hoyer and Martin Duque, as they crossed paths in the first-floor hallway. McKenna then entered a stairwell and encountered Cruz assembling his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
"He said get out of here. Things are about to get bad," McKenna recalled.
McKenna sprinted out to the parking lot as Cruz went into the hallway and began shooting. McKenna alerted Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach who doubled as a security guard. Feis drove McKenna in his golf cart to an adjacent building for safety, and then went to the three-story building McKenna fled from.
By then, the sounds of gunfire were already ringing out across the campus. Feis went in and was fatally shot immediately by Cruz, who had already killed Hoyer, 15, and Duque, 14, and eight others. Cruz then continued through the second floor, where he fired into classrooms but hit no one. When he reached the third floor, he killed six more.
The jurors also heard testimony from two students who were wounded as they sat in their English class when Cruz fired through a window in the door.
William Olson was writing an essay when "all of a sudden I hear a bunch of noise in the hallway. I did not know what it was."
Olson said he looked over and saw another freshman draped over a desk, blood pouring out of him as he died.
At that point, Olson said he and other students scrambled next to the teacher’s desk.
"While I’m laying in front of the desk I realize there’s blood all over me," he said. He had suffered arm and leg wounds.
Alexander Dworet said he originally thought the loud bangs were the school's marching band, but then he felt a "hot sensation" on the back of his head where he had been grazed by a bullet and "I realized I was in danger."
Dworet's 17-year-old brother, Nick, was across the hall in his Holocaust studies class. Cruz fired into that classroom, too, killing him.