The jury in the sentencing trial of Parkland school gunman Nikolas Cruz began deliberations Wednesday, nearly six months after the proceedings began.
Cruz, now 24, pleaded guilty last October to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The seven-man, five-woman jury will decide whether he is sentenced to death or life without parole, weighing aggravating factors presented by prosecutors against the defense's mitigating circumstances.
To obtain a recommendation of the death penalty, the jury must unanimously agree that at least one aggravating factor has been met in at least one of the 17 murders. Those aggravating factors include if the crime was premeditated, or if it was especially cruel or heinous.
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The jurors must also consider the mitigating factors arguments that the shooter's defense team has presented about his upbringing and his mental health.
A juror could also vote for life out of mercy for the gunman.
For the former Stoneman Douglas student to receive a death sentence, the jury must unanimously agree.
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Broward Judge Elizabeth Scherer will make the ultimate decision, but it’s rare for a judge to depart from a jury’s recommendation.
Scherer read the jury instructions Wednesday morning and the deliberations began in the jury room with a mountain of evidence and testimony to consider.
Around midday Wednesday, the jury had multiple questions and everyone returned to the courtroom.
Two of the juror questions were about the testimony of two doctors, one for the defense and one for prosecutors. Jurors also asked for a book about CDC guidelines and a mental health guidebook that were used during the defense's closing statement but since they're not among the evidence introduced at trial, they cannot be given to jurors, Scherer said.
Later Wednesday, jurors asked to see the rifle the gunman used during the shooting. Scherer said that would have to be arranged by the sheriff's office for Thursday morning, so the jurors were dismissed for the day.
The jurors will be taken to a secret location where they will remain sequestered in hotel rooms without access to computers, cellphones, television, radio, or newspapers.
For entertainment to pass the time, they can bring books but they must not be legal thrillers, true crime, or any other books that have to do with the law.
When not in isolation at the hotel, jurors will deliberate in the court’s jury room until a decision is reached.
When they ring the buzzer, the judge will wait one hour before bringing them back into the courtroom to hear their decision.
That will give the victims’ families, lawyers for both sides, court personnel, and the gunman enough time to assemble in court.
The jurors have experienced a lot since the testimony began on July 18. They've watched security videos of the shooting and viewed gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos.
They also toured the fenced-off building 1200 at Stoneman Douglas where the shooting happened, which remains blood-stained and bullet-pocked.
Teachers and students testified about watching others die at the school, and parents and spouses gave tearful and angry statements about their loss.
They also heard defense lawyers discuss the gunman's birth mother's heavy drinking during pregnancy, which they claim left him with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Defense experts said his bizarre, troubling and sometimes violent behavior starting at age 2 was misdiagnosed as attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, meaning he never got the proper treatment.
Prosecutors countered the gunman does not have fetal alcohol issues, but has antisocial personality disorder, with a forensic psychiatrist testifying that the gunman can control his behavior yet chooses not to because he has no regard for others.
Prosecutors also detailed how the gunman planned the shooting and said he executed it with military or SWAT-like precision.
No matter what the jury decides, Florida death penalty cases are automatically reviewed by the state's Supreme Court.