One A dozen jurors and 10 alternate jurors made a rare visit to the scene of a mass shooting Thursday in the sentencing trial of convicted gunman Nicolas Cruz. The 23-year-old faces the death penalty or life in prison after pleading guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October.
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The jury, along with Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, attorneys and reporters, walked through the three-story hallway and classrooms that Cruz did four years ago. The building has been closed to the public behind a 15-foot chain-link fence covered in a privacy net — but prosecutors hoped the scenes inside would prove Cruz deserved the death penalty.
reporter The crunch of broken glass and dried blood underfoot is described – in stark contrast to deflated balloons and the rotting rose petals left behind by students hurriedly fleeing. On the third floor, six people died, said Rafael Olmeda, a reporter for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “The blood in the hallway is something I would never want people to see.”
“It’s disturbing on many levels,” Olmeida said in pool report interview. “What we’re seeing is the end result of kids having a good time in their weekdays, and all of a sudden, a nightmare erupts.”
In Dara Hass’s ninth grade English class, where Alyssa Alhadeff, Alaina Petty and Alexander Schachter died, students had been writing before the attack.
“We go to school every day of the week and we take it all for granted,” one student wrote. “We cry and whine, not knowing how lucky we are to learn.”
Six bullet holes in a third-floor window showed Cruz trying to shoot at the fleeing students.Bloodstains can still be seen Geography teacher Scott Beigel fell while guiding students into the classroom.
In an alcove outside the bathroom where Joaquin Oliver died, a pool of blood and bullet holes in the wall showed how close Cruz was when he shot the 17-year-old, his hands raised helplessly .The heart-shaped Valentine’s card he carried with him was covered inside blood. Oliver should be 22 on Thursday.
“We didn’t just see a big pool of blood where Joaquin Oliver died,” Olmeida said. “We saw a big pool of blood, and we know from the testimony that Joaquin Oliver sat and waited, knowing he was going to be shot next.”
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The jurors showed no signs of emotion during the visit, although one appeared to put his arms around the other in a supportive gesture, reporters said.
Trial consultant Robert Hirschhorn, who was not involved in the case, said it was “very rare” for a judge to allow site visits in any criminal trial.This marks the first time in recent history that a judge is considering punishment, he said.
“Field trips always leave an indelible and unforgettable impression on jurors,” Hirschhorn said.
In Florida, the death penalty requires a unanimous jury recommendation. Cruz’s defense team, which has pushed for a life sentence based on Cruz’s difficult upbringing and mental health issues, will deliver opening remarks after next week’s recess.
Jurors have been exposed to graphic videos, photos and audio clips since the trial began on July 18. They heard medical experts describe the devastating damage Cruz’s AR-15-style weapon had inflicted. Now, they are witnessing a carnage that was paused in time.
Thursday also brought the final day of victim impact statements, during which victims’ loved ones Helena Ramsay, 17, Peter Wang, 15, and sporting director Christopher Hixon, 49, described how their lives had been turned upside down.
Hixon’s son Corey, dressed in a suit and burgundy bow tie, told the court he missed Saturday’s trip to Dunkin with his father, a Navy veteran.
With three heartbroken words, Corey brings Tears in court – including members of Cruz defensive team.
“I miss him,” Corey said, leaning against his mother for a hug and sobbing.