After Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of first-degree murder and other charges, prosecutors no longer have to prove at trial that he carried out the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Settled.
His sentence was not to settle the petition. In Florida, first-degree murder is a capital offense, punishable by death or life in prison without parole. And State law required The jury decides what that should be.
If the defendant had been convicted at trial, the same jury that rendered the verdict would have been retained for a separate sentencing proceeding. But Mr. If a defendant pleads guilty before trial, as Cruz did, the court must empanel a jury for sentencing.
What is the government doing?
The prosecution’s job now is to convince the jury that there are aggravating factors in this case that warrant the death penalty. Among the potential aggravating factors listed in the Act are:
The killings were “especially heinous, atrocious, or atrocious”;
Defendant “knowingly created a risk of death to several persons”;
The defendant was killed “in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.”
Prosecutors are expected to present detailed details of the 17 murders and 17 attempted murders at the high school, including hundreds of gruesome photos and videos. The jury may also visit the school building There was a shooting.
“These jurors are going to try to recover what happened to the victims,” David S. Weinstein, a former prosecutor, is now a defense attorney. “It’s going to be an emotional roller coaster.”
What does security do?
The defense will try to convince the jury that there are mitigating circumstances that call for leniency. Under the statute, in those circumstances the defendant was “under the influence of excessive mental or emotional disturbance” or had a diminished capacity to understand whether his actions were criminal, among other factors.
Mr. was 19 years old when the shooting happened. Defense attorneys want to show that Cruz had a difficult upbringing and struggled with adversity. Psychiatric problems and tried to get treatment. They have requested permission to show jurors a map of his brain, but the judge has yet to decide whether to allow it.
After hearing the evidence, the jury must first determine whether the State has proven each aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt. In order for the defendant to be eligible for the death penalty, the jury must unanimously find at least one of the aggravating factors to be proven.
Next, the jury will consider whether the proven aggravating circumstances are sufficient to warrant the death penalty and outweigh any existing mitigating factors, and if so, whether to recommend the death penalty to the court. To do so, the jury must again be unanimous; Otherwise, the sentence recommendation should be life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
A court cannot impose the death penalty if the jury has recommended a life sentence, but it can set aside a jury’s recommendation of death and impose a life sentence instead.
A strange case
The need for a special sentencing jury is one of several ways in which the Parkland case is highly unusual. Mr. It’s rare for someone as young as Cruz (now 23) to face the death penalty, and it’s rare that someone who committed such a brutal shooting is still alive to face justice.
“In a way, we’re in completely uncharted waters,” said Robert M. Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla., tracks mass killings. “You don’t get trials like this because the gunman is always dead.”
Patricia Massey Contributed report.
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