Parkland Survivors Relive Harrowing Shooting at Death Penalty Trial - Rolling Stone
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Parkland Survivors Relive Shooting at Death Penalty Trial: ‘I’m Trying Not to Freak Out’

A jury is being asked to determine if Nikolas Cruz, who pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder, should be sentenced to death or life in prison

nikolas cruz death penalty trial parkland shootingnikolas cruz death penalty trial parkland shooting

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz.

Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel/AP Photo

Survivors of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, recalled watching their classmates die, suffering their own injuries, and confronting admitted shooter Nikolas Cruz during testimony on the second day of Cruz’s sentencing trial. 

Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of premeditated and attempted murder back in October 2021. The trial began Monday, July 18, to determine whether Cruz will get life in prison without parole or the death penalty, the latter of which prosecutors seek.

Alex Dworet was one of the students who testified Tuesday, July 19, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Dworet was among those injured in the shooting, while his brother, Nicholas, was one of the 17 people killed. Dworet said he remembered the first shots and the “hot sensation” on the back of his head after he was hit. 

“While I was sitting there, I was trying not to think this is real,” Dworet said. “This is fake. I’m just trying not to process it. I’m trying not to freak out.”

In front of him, Dworet said, his 14-year-old classmate, Alex Schachter, was slumped over with a pool of blood forming at his feet. “I saw a pile of blood forming under him,” Dworet said. “I saw his body, not spasming, but more like trying to take his final breaths, and at that moment, it started getting more real.”

The jury also heard from Christopher McKenna, a student who happened to pass Cruz, holding his rifle, in the hallway before the shooting had actually begun. McKenna said Cruz told him, “Get out of here. Things are about to get bad.” 

During the first two days of the trial, jurors were shown various videos from the shooting, both taken by students on cell phones and from security footage. Sound from some of the videos had been removed, and some of the footage is only being shown to the jury and will not be released publicly (members of the press will be able to view, but not record, for pool reports). 

On day one, video clips with audio were a key part of prosecutor Mike Satz’s opening statement. At one point, as audio of the gunshots filled the courtroom, one family member asked for the clip to be turned off. Cruz’s defense attorney also objected to the clip and called for a mistrial, saying the footage prejudiced the jury. The judge denied the motion. 

The defense again objected to the videos shown on Tuesday as prejudicial, but prosecutor Jeff Marcus successfully argued they were needed to aid the state’s death penalty case to prove the killings were “heinous, atrocious, and cruel.” To make that case, prosecutors have to prove that the murders include at least one of several “aggravating factors,” seven of which Satz listed during his opening statement. Among them were that the murders were “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel,” and that the murders were “cold, calculated, and pre-mediated.”

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