Jurors in Parkland Gunman Trial Visit Mass Shooting Site


PARKLAND, Fla. (CW44 News At 10 | CNN) — Judges at the sentencing stage of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting trial on Thursday visited the site of the 1200 building of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, which has been closed since the Feb. 14, 2018 attack.

They saw bloodstains where the victims were shot, according to a group of reporters who were allowed in after the jurors completed their passage. Valentine’s Day gifts and cards were scattered everywhere and there were bullet holes in the walls. Fragments of broken safety glass lay everywhere, the reporters wrote, crunching beneath their feet.

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The visit, Judge Elizabeth Scherer explained to the jurors on Wednesday, was designed to help them analyze the evidence presented so far in the trial of Nikolas Cruz, who faces either the death penalty or life in prison after pleading guilty. argued for 17 murders and 17 counts. of attempted murder.

The state rested on its case Thursday afternoon, after jurors returned from the visit and prosecutors called several more witnesses to give victim statements.

Footage of the pool taken from outside the building Thursday showed it remained fenced, partially hidden behind banners bearing the high school’s name and the eagle mascot emblem. The judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers were also seen entering the building.

The judges were ordered on Wednesday to “touch, manipulate or move anything”. The judge also told them to explore the scene alone and at their own pace, moving from floor to floor as a group. Cruz was not present at the visit and told the judge Thursday morning in response to her questioning that it was his decision not to go.

“Nothing will be explained to you or pointed out to you,” the judge said. Jurors were also told not to speak to anyone until the viewing was completed.

On the first floor, there was dried blood outside room 1215 where three students were murdered, according to reporters who went inside. In room 1214, a Holocaust Studies class, were two yellowed copies of the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. Bullet marks marred the desks and laptops were open.

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In room 1216, a blue folder with Alaina Petty’s name lay on a desk, the reporters wrote. Bullet holes were visible in the wall and reporters saw a handwritten document about Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for advocating access to education for girls and women.

“We go to school every day of the week and we take it all for granted,” wrote one student. “We cry and complain without knowing how lucky we are to learn.”

On the second floor, in room 1230, the reporters noticed a heart-shaped box of Valentine’s chocolates. In room 1232 there were still calculators on school desks and open spiral notebooks where students were doing algebra.

Bloodstains from more victims were seen on the third floor, they wrote, along with bullet abrasions along the wall and bullet holes in windows. In room 1255, the white board read, “How to write the perfect love letter” – the creative writing assignment for the day. In 1249, the reporters saw an unfinished game of chess.

Patricia Oliver, mother of victim Joaquin Oliver, told CNN she hoped “emotions” would be the jury’s main takeaway after visiting the building Thursday, which would have been her son’s 22nd birthday. The building was closed to preserve it for the trial. Officials have said it will be torn down.

“We knew, of course, that this moment would come. It’s a moment that’s part of a process,” said Manuel Oliver, the father of Joaquin, now an activist and organizer working on gun violence. “The most important thing here is what happened to our son, how he suffered that day and what we can do after that. That’s really important here.”

Judges were not allowed to have a smartphone, smartwatch or any type of camera with them during the viewing. In the courtroom, lawyers encouraged the judge to ask jurors to wear closed-toe shoes because they could encounter glass on the floor.

‘I can’t be really happy when I’m laughing’, the victim’s father testified

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The current stage of the trial is to determine Cruz’s sentence: Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, while Cruz’s lawyers are asking the jury for life in prison with no chance of parole. To recommend a death sentence, the jurors must be unanimous. If they do, the judge could choose to follow the recommendation or sentence Cruz to life in prison instead.

After the visit, more victim statements were presented in court, with more families of the victims taking the stand to testify about the toll of the massacre and what the deaths of their loved ones meant to them.

“I just can’t enjoy what I used to do,” said Debra Hixon, wife of athletics director Chris Hixon, who died trying to disarm the gunman. “The house we shared doesn’t feel like the house we built because home meant Chris.”

Anne Ramsay, mother of 17-year-old victim Helena Ramsay, remembered her daughter as a beautiful and graceful young woman – someone who was athletic by nature, but who preferred training her mind to competitive sports. She loved to watch “Jeopardy!”

Helena was murdered on her father’s birthday, Anne Ramsay said. “That day will never be a celebration and can never be the same for him,” she said, “and now it is filled with pain, as it is every day.”

In a statement read by her niece, Hui Wang, mother of Peter Wang, a 15-year-old who was shot while holding a door open to help his classmates get to safety recalled how he was murdered just before Chinese New Year. while giving the family their most cherished vacation.

“We no longer decorate our house or organize parties on the most important holiday in our family. It is now Peter’s death anniversary,” the statement read, read by Wang’s cousin Lin Chen. “This day of unity became a day that hurts the most.”

Many of the testimony in Broward County court this week — most notably from the parents of the 14 murdered students — focused on all the things the victims and their families will never be able to do and the irreparable damage to their daily lives.

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“Our family is broken. There’s a constant void,” says Max Schachter, father of 14-year-old Alex, who loved chocolate chip cookies, played the trombone, and played video games.

“I feel like I can’t really be happy when I’m smiling,” Schachter said on Wednesday. “I know that behind that smile is the keen realization that part of me will always be sad and miserable because Alex isn’t around.”

The loss of her daughter Meadow Pollack, 18, has “destroyed Shara Kaplan’s life,” she told the jury on Tuesday, “and my ability to one day lead a productive life.” To articulate the impact her daughter’s death had on her, she said, she would have to tear her heart out and show it broken into a million pieces.

And the Hoyer family will never be the same. “We were a family unit of five always trying to fit in a world set up for even numbers,” said Tom Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son Luke – the youngest of three – was murdered. “Two, four, six-seater tables in a restaurant. Packs of two, four, six event tickets. Such things.”

But the Hoyers are no longer a family of five, and “never again will the world feel right, now that we’re a family of four,” Hoyer said.

“When Luke died, something was missing in me,” he said. “And I’ll never, ever get over that feeling.”

To make their sentencing decision, jurors will hear prosecutors and lawyers argue about aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances — reasons why Cruz should or should not be executed.

The victim statements add an extra layer, allowing the victims’ families and friends to have their own day in court, although the judge told the jury that the statements are not intended to be aggravating factors.

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