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Opening statements start in Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting trial

July 18, 2022 Updated Mon., July 18, 2022 at 9:22 p.m.

Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz delivers his opening statement during the penalty phase trial of confessed Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Monday, July 18, 2022.  (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)
Assistant State Attorney Mike Satz delivers his opening statement during the penalty phase trial of confessed Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Monday, July 18, 2022. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)
By Rafael Olmeda, Scott Travis and Natalia Galicza South Florida Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Prosecutor Mike Satz gave jurors an introduction to the horror of Feb. 14, 2018, telling them, “I’m going to speak to you about the unspeakable.”

Monday was the first day of the sentencing trial to determine if the confessed killer gets the death penalty or is sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“He had been planning to be a school shooter long before he moved in with the Sneads (James and Kimberly), long before his mother passed away,” said Satz, who was the state attorney at the time of the murders.

Satz said 139 shots were fired, 70 on the first floor, two in the west stairwell, six on the second floor, and 61 on the third floor.

He described the shootings in cold, clinical detail, pointing out not only who was shot but how many times, whether they survived, and the ages of those who died.

Satz recited the weapon’s serial number from memory. He recited details of each death, each injury, without consulting notes.

“All 17 were heinous, atrocious and cruel,” Satz said. “All 17 were cold, calculated, manipulative and deadly.”

Satz described the killer walking over bodies to leave the school, taking off his vest and rifle and setting it down in the stairwell, and running out.

Wearing a maroon JROTC Stoneman Douglas shirt, black pants and a blue baseball cap, killer Nikolas Cruz ran out and blended with students and teachers who were evacuating because a fire alarm had gone off, Satz said. The killer went over to Walmart where he bought an Icee from the Subway before heading to a nearby McDonald’s.

At McDonald’s, Cruz ran into student John Wilford, who didn’t know that Cruz had shot his sister, Maddy. Cruz asked Wilford for a ride, which he declined, saying he was waiting for him mom to pick him up, Satz said.

Cruz then started heading to a nearby subdivision where Coconut Creek Police Officer Mike Leonard saw him and arrested him, Satz said.

Emotions were visibly high in the courtroom. Some jurors struggled to keep their emotions in check. Most listened intently without flinching, as Satz detailed every injury, every death on Valentine’s Day. Family members of victims also became emotional.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed, wiped his eyes, then shook his head and mouthed to someone he was OK. Max Schacter, whose son Alex was killed, looked down, hand over face, shaking his head.

The defense has reserved its opening statement for after the state presents its case, a common practice.

The trial began on Monday with questions about whether a juror had discussed the case prior to the trial.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she had an affidavit from someone saying that one juror had spoken with someone about the case, including the juror’s feelings about the death penalty. But the juror flatly denied it, saying it wasn’t true.

Scherer said she was inclined to believe the juror.

“I can’t take the word of someone I’ve never met with a juror I’ve spent hours with,” Scherer said. “The juror has never been anything but forthcoming.”

More than a dozen camera crews were set up outside the Broward County Courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale on Monday morning. The congestion closed down Southeast Sixth street and prompted curiosity from the public.

Passers-by – some aware of the Nikolas Cruz trial, some not – took in their surroundings. Their chatter floated through the building’s outdoor breezeway all the way up to the 17th floor.

“You see all that news right there?” “What floor is the trial on?” and “I just want to get over this whole nonsense.”

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