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Parkland high school gunman facing life or death decision – as jury mulls prison without parole or execution

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A jury is deciding whether a teenage gunman who shot dead 17 people at a Florida high school will go to prison for life or be executed.

Expelled student Nikolas Cruz was 18 when he legally purchased the AR-15 rifle he used to shoot dead 14 students and three staff members at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day in 2018.

It is the deadliest shooting to reach trial in US history.

Nine other gunmen who killed at least 17 people died during or immediately after their shootings, either by suicide or police gunfire.

The suspect in the 2019 shooting of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, is awaiting trial.

Three days before the massacre at Marjory Stoneman, Cruz made a video. In it he said: “Hello, my name is Nik. I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018.

”My goal is at least 20 people…. It’s going to be a big event, and when you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am.

“You’re all going to die. Ah yeah, I can’t wait.”

A senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School weeps in front of a cross and Star of David for shooting victim Meadow Pollack while a fellow classmate consoles her at a memorial by the school in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
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A school in mourning – Marjory Stoneman Douglas students days after the deadly attack

Last October Cruz pleaded guilty to premediated murder and this week, the “penalty phase” of his trial begins. Jurors will determine whether he should be sentenced to life in prison or receive the death penalty.

A man holds a whiteboard that reads, "Death penalty. Guilty as charged. Sign here", outside the Broward County Courthouse as Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz plead guilty in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., October 20, 2021. Cruz pleaded guilty on Wednesday in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the deadliest ever at a U.S. high school. REUTERS/Marco Bello
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Campaigners organised petitions to push for the death penalty

Read more:
Walmart agrees to restrict gun sales following Parkland shooting
More than 700 people shot dead in the US since the Texas school shooting

Students walk through the football field of Crescenta Valley High School as part of a National School Walkout to honor the victims of the shooting at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in La Crescenta, California, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
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The murders led to a National School Walkout in the US in support of greater gun control

In his opening remarks prosecutor Mike Satz highlighted Cruz’s brutality as he stalked a three-storey classroom building and fired his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle down hallways and into classrooms.

Cruz, he said, sometimes walked back to already-wounded victims and killed them with a second volley of shots.

Cruz was “cold, calculated, manipulative and deadly,” he added.

Families of the victims were at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, for the hearing. Some shook their heads, some wept.

Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed in the attack, observes the penalty phase of the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. July 18, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. Carline Jean/Pool via REUTERS
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Families attend the ‘penalty hearing’

Cruz was slumped over during much of Mr Satz’s statement.

The court was told Cruz had a history of mental health and behavioural problems at the time of the
shooting.

He had said at the time of his guilty plea he was “very sorry” and asked to be given a chance to help others.

The jury must be unanimous to recommend Cruz be executed. If any of the 12 jurors objects, Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

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‘This can happen anywhere – it’s got to stop’

US gun violence has been the focus of renewed worldwide attention following recent mass shootings including one at an Independence Day parade outside Chicago that killed seven people, and another in May at a school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

On Monday, the man accused of killing 10 black people at a New York grocery shop pleaded not guilty to 27 hate crime and firearms charges stemming from the Buffalo shooting massacre, which he live streamed on social media.

In June, President Joe Biden signed the first major federal gun reform in three decades, which he has celebrated as a rare bipartisan agreement.

But individual states are already looking at introducing ways of countering that.

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