Following Cruz’s guilty pleas, the 12-member jury now being impaneled for the penalty phase will be asked to decide whether to recommend his execution. Six to eight alternates also are due to be picked, the judge said last week during a hearing.
“There were 17 people killed, so there is a story of the death of 17 people,” Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus told the court in explaining why the penalty phase could last into the fall. “And then there are 17 more that are considered aggravating factors in the case.”
Jurors would have to agree unanimously that at least one aggravating factor — including the concurrent capital felony charges to which Cruz pleaded guilty, or whether he knowingly created the risk of other deaths — exists among the 34 charges to then begin to discuss whether he should face the death penalty.
If that happens, they must be unanimous in recommending a death sentence, otherwise his sentence would necessarily be life in prison. If they do recommend capital punishment, the final decision still rests with the judge.
14 students and 3 faculty members were slain
When he arrived, Cruz walked into the high school’s three-story 1200 building, stepped into the east stairwell and started loading the rifle. As he did so, a student walked into the stairwell, Satz said.
“You better get out of here,” Cruz told the student, per the prosecutor. “Something bad is about to happen.”
At about 2:21 pm, Cruz opened fire in the hallway, Satz said, shooting at students and teachers in hallways and classrooms as he made his way through the building and up through each floor. At one point, dust shaken from ceiling tiles by the gunfire set off the building’s fire alarm, sending students and teachers out of the classrooms and into the hallways.
Of those killed, 14 were students: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 14.
Geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35; wrestling coach Chris Hixon, 49; and assistant football coach Aaron Feis, 37, were also killed — each while running toward danger or trying to help students to safety.
After the shooting, Cruz put down his weapon, the remaining magazines and his tactical vest and fled, blending in at 2:27 pm with other students, Satz said. He was arrested that afternoon, about 3 miles from the school.
At the October plea hearing, Cruz responded “guilty” to each of the 34 charges he faced before addressing the victims and their families in a short statement to the court.
“I am very sorry for what I did,” he said, in part, “and I have to live with it every day.”
Cruz’s apology, however, did little to comfort the parent of one slain student, who called it “ridiculous.”
“I think he deserves as much of a chance as he gave my daughter and everyone else on February 14 of 2018,” said Gina Montalto’s father, Tony Montalto, when asked about Cruz facing the death penalty.
Cruz has already been sentenced to 25 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to attacking a jail guard in November 2018.
Millions awarded to victims’ families in civil cases
But school shootings have continued, with some 130 recorded at US campuses with K-12 students since Parkland, according to CNN’s tally.
“While we recognize that no amount of money can make these families whole, it is the school board’s hope that this settlement will show our heartfelt commitment to the MSD families, students, staff and faculty and the entire Broward County community,” the district’s interim general counsel said.
CNN’s Denise Royal contributed to this report.