FORT LAUDERDALE — Monday marks the ninth day of the sentencing trial of Nikolas Cruz, who pleaded guilty in 2021 to killing 17 people and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018.
For two weeks, jurors have heard testimony from teachers and students who survived the shooting; from medical examiners who discussed victims’ injuries; and from others, like an Uber driver and gun-shop owner, who spoke of their interactions with the gunman.
The 12-person jury will recommend whether Cruz, then 19 and now 23, is put to death or sentenced to life in prison without parole. If it recommends death, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer will make the final ruling, likely sometime this fall.
Follow along for live coverage of what’s happening Monday in the courtroom.
Last week’s testimony: Social media posts promised shooting at school
6 minutes of terror: New revelations rise as Parkland survivors recount Nikolas Cruz attack
Patricia Oliver, Joaquin Oliver’s mother, prepared a statement to share with jurors about the impact of her son’s loss.
“It’s been four years and four months since he was taken from us,” she said. Her family “will never be the same.”
She began to cry as she described the teenaged Joaquin, who knocked on her door at night when he couldn’t fall asleep. He blew her kisses and called his sister “beautiful girl.” He was their families’ missing link, she said.
Joaquin’s sister read a statement next, describing her vibrant and empathetic younger brother. When he died, apart from her did, too, she said.
“This is life now, and it hurts. It hurts a lot,” she said.
His empty bedroom haunts her.
Victoria Gonzales, Joaquin’s girlfriend, also tested before jurors. “Girlfriend” doesn’t really suffice, she said – they were soulmates. She described how he danced down the hallways of Stoneman Douglas with his headphones in.
“He was simply just happy to be human,” she said.
They had a movie date planned the night he was killed, Gonzalez said. When Cruz killed Joaquin, she said, he took with him his innocence, his purity, the chance to watch him grow up.
“I lost the voice that filled the atmosphere of my core,” Gonzalez said. “It’s so quiet now.”
Alaina Petty’s mother took the stand and began to cry before she said a word to jurors.
She’s heartbroken that she won’t be able to watch her daughter become “the amazing young woman she was turning into,” she said.
“Fourteen is too young to die,” added Meghan Petty, Alaina’s older sister.
Alaina never got her braces off, never went on a first date, never got her driver’s license or had her first kiss before she was killed.
“Even if she’d gone to Mars, she’d be closer than she is now,” Meghan Petty said.
She wept, and a juror reached to take a tissue herself. Meghan Petty said she doesn’t remember what it felt like to hug her sister, or to fight with her. She said she’s still waiting for her to walk through the front door.
The parents of Scott Beigel, the school’s cross-county coach and geography teacher, spoke last. Their son had a broad smile and a dry sense of humor, they said. When asked how to improve at a track meet, he told his team: Just run faster.
Their impact statement was the only one to make the jurors laugh. Funny as it was, it ended the same way as those before it.
“I miss my son today. I will miss my son tomorrow,” Beigel’s mother said. She said she’ll miss him for the rest of her life.
Prosecutors played videos found on Cruz’s phone in which he detailed his plans for the Parkland shooting.
“Today is the day,” he said in one. “The day of my massacre shall begin.”
“I live in seclusion and solitude. I hate everyone and everything,” said Cruz, then 19 years old.
He said he’d had enough of being called an “idiot and a dumbass”, and that his goal was to kill “at least” 20 people. All the kids in school would “run in fear and hide from the wrath of my power. They will know who I am.”
He finished with a promise: “You’re all going to die. Pew pew pew. Can’t wait.”
Members of victims’ families watched from the courtroom and shook their heads as the video played on overhead screens.
Broward County Detective Ronald Faircloth, a digital forensics analyst, read through texts between Cruz and various people in the hours leading up to the shooting.
In one conversation, Cruz expressed his love for someone saved in his phone as “Warning Love Of Your Life.” The person rebuffed him numerous times.
“You’re scaring me, and I want you to leave me alone,” they texted. “You know I have a boyfriend, right?”
Cruz responded over three separate texts: “No I don’t. Doesn’t matter anymore. I love you.”
Minutes before carrying out the massacre, Cruz texted someone from the back seat of the Uber headed toward Stoneman Douglas.
“I have to tell you something important soon,” Cruz wrote.
The person asked for clarification, to which the gunman responded: “Nothing bad bro.”
Faircloth read through Cruz’s cellphone search history from the days leading up to the shooting. On Feb. 12, 2018, he searched: “how long does it take for a cop to show up at a school shooting.”
Cruz searched repeatedly for “shooting people massacre,” “ar-15,” and “marjory stoneman douglas.” In between searches for past school shootings, Cruz clicked on a Rolling Stone article: “How the AR-15 Became Mass Shooters’ Weapon of Choice.”
Terrill Tops, a Palm Beach County associate medical examiner and expert forensic pathologist, performed the autopsy of 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver. Joaquin’s mother began to weep as Tops flipped through photos of the teen’s body.
He said Joaquin raised his hand to protect himself from Cruz, who stood over him in an alcove on the third-floor hallway on Feb. 14, 2018. Cruz shot him, and a bullet traveled through the center of Joaquin’s upraised hand and into his temple. Tops liked the impact of the bullet to a “cherry bomb.”
Joaquin’s mother left the courtroom.
Tops also tested that he performed an autopsy of 37-year-old Aaron Feis, a football coach at Stoneman Douglas.
A bullet entered Feis’ armpit, fractured his ribcage and hit his lung. Feis would have struggled to breathe as the blood pooled in his chest cavity, compressing his lung, Tops said.
At Nikolas Cruz trial today, medical examiner describes the path of the bullet that killed Luke Hoyer
Tops also performed the autopsy of 15-year-old Luke Hoyer, who Cruz shot and killed as he returned to class.
Tops described the path of one bullet that entered, exited and entered Luke again, leaving holes in his neck, collar bone and back. It severed two major arteries that supply blood to the face and brain.
“Those two blood vessels were severed,” Tops said. “They were obliterated.”
A liter and a half of blood pooled in the teen’s chest cavity, compressing and “basically drowning” his lung. Luke might have been saved if he received medical attention immediately, Tops said. Luke’s parents listened in the courtroom, and they looked ill as Tops tested.
Hannah Phillips is a journalist covering public safety and criminal justice at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at email@example.com.