The jury in Nikolas Cruz tours Parkland High School where 17 people were killed


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Roses brought in honor of love this Valentine’s Day in 2018 lay wilted, their dried and cracked petals strewn on classroom floors, still smeared with the blood of victims killed more than four years ago by a former student were gunned down.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where shooter Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three staff, bullet holes gnashed walls and broken glass from windows shattered by gunfire. Nothing had been changed except for the removal of the victims’ bodies and some personal belongings.

Twelve jurors and ten alternates, who will decide whether Cruz faces the death penalty or life in prison, made a rare visit to the massacre scene Thursday, following Cruz’s footsteps through the three-story freshman building known as “Building 12.” After they left, a group of journalists were let in for a much quicker first public viewing.

The sight was deeply unsettling: large puddles of dried blood still stained the classroom floors. A lock of dark hair lay on the ground where the body of one of the victims once lay. A single black rubber shoe stood in a hallway. Browned rose petals were strewn down a hallway where six people died.

In classroom after classroom, notebooks opened revealed incomplete lessons. A bloodstained book entitled Tell Them We Remember lay on a bullet-riddled desk in the classroom where teacher Ivy Schamis was teaching students about the Holocaust. A sign was posted on a bulletin board that read, “We will never forget.” Two students died there.

In English teacher Dara Hass’ classroom, where most of the students were gunned down, there were essays about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for going to school and who has since become a global advocate for access to education designed for women girls.

“A bullet went straight to her head but not her brain,” wrote one student. “We go to school every day of the week and we take it all for granted,” wrote another. “We cry and complain, not knowing how lucky we are to be able to study.”

The door of Room 1255, teacher Stacey Lippel’s classroom, was pushed open – like others to indicate Cruz fired inside. On one wall inside was a sign that read “No Bully Zone.” The creative writing task for the day was written on the whiteboard: “How do I write the perfect love letter.”

And still hanging on the wall of a second floor hallway was a quote from James Dean: “Dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die today.”

In murdered teacher Scott Beigel’s geography classroom, a laptop was still on his desk. Student papers comparing the teachings of Christianity and Islam remained, some graded, some not. Beigel, the school’s cross-country coach, had written on his slate the gold, silver and bronze medalists in each Winter Olympics competition, which had started five days earlier.

Prosecutors, who dropped their case after the jury tour, hope the visit will help prove Cruz’s actions were cold, calculated, heinous and cruel; put many people at great risk of death and “impaired a governmental function” – all aggravating factors under Florida’s death penalty statute.

Under Florida court rules, neither the judge nor the attorneys were allowed to speak to the jury — and the jury was not allowed to converse with each other — as they retraced the path Cruz took on February 14, 2018, as he moved from floor to floor, firing through hallways and into classrooms. before the tour, the jury had already seen surveillance video the shooting and photographs its aftermath.

The building was sealed and surrounded by a 15-foot chain link fence wrapped with a privacy screen secured with cable ties. It looms menacingly over the school and its teachers, staff and 3,300 students and is easily seen by anyone nearby. The Broward County School District plans to demolish it if prosecutors agree. At the moment it is a court exhibition.

“If you drive by, it’s there. When you go to class, it’s there. It’s just a colossal structure that you can’t overlook,” said Kai Körber, who was a Stoneman Douglas Junior at the time of filming. He is now at the University of California, Berkeley and the developer of a Mental health phone app. “It’s just a constant reminder … it’s tremendously exhausting and awful.”

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October up to 17 counts of first-degree murder; the only purpose of the trial is to determine whether he will be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without parole.

Miami defense attorney David S. Weinstein said prosecutors hope the visit will be “the final stretch to dispel any doubt a jury might have had that the death penalty is the only recommendation that can be made.” “.

Such crime scene visits are rare. Weinstein, a former prosecutor, said he’s only had one in more than 150 jury trials dating back to the late 1980s.

In most trials, a crime scene visit is not even considered because, years later, it is not the same place where the crime occurred and can give a false sense of what happened. But in this case the building was sealed to make it possible.

Attorneys for Cruz have argued that prosecutors allegedly used provocative evidence, including Thursday’s visit, not only to prove their case but to inflame jury passion.

After the jury returned to the courtroom on Thursday, the mothers of two victims testified that the massacre permanently obscured not only every Valentine’s Day but also other important family celebrations.

Helena Ramsay, 17, died on her father’s birthday. “This day will never be a celebration and can never be the same for him,” said her mother Anne Ramsay.

Hui Wang, whose 15-year-old son Peter was killed, said the shooting happened a day before Chinese New Year. A planned celebration was canceled that year and every year since.

“That day of unity turned into a day that hurts the most,” she said.

Sports director Chris Hixon’s wife and their 26-year-old son, who has special needs, also spoke as jurors on the fourth and final day heard from the families of the victims. Hixon, a 49-year-old Marine veteran, died bursting into the building trying to stop Cruz and protect the students.

Corey Hixon described a weekly ritual of getting donuts with his father.

“I miss him,” he said simply. The jury in Nikolas Cruz tours Parkland High School where 17 people were killed

Fry Electronics Team

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