By TERRY SPENCER Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors showed jurors Friday photos of the horrific damage bullets fired from Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s AR-15 rifle did to some of his 17 victims, causing serious injuries to the head, body and limbs.
The jury also saw gruesome crime scene photos showing dead victims in their classrooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, some falling on top of each other. It was an unusually graphic display in an American courtroom, as most nationwide mass shootings never reach trial because the killer dies during or immediately after the attack.
The jury of seven men, five women and 10 alternates showed little emotion as the Parkland school photos were displayed on video monitors inside the jury box. They were not shown in the gallery, where several relatives were seated, but were shown to reporters after the hearing.
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder, so the jury will only decide whether he will be sentenced to death or life without parole.
Prosecutors are showing the photos because they believe their graphic and gruesome details demonstrate the heinous, depraved, and cruel nature of Cruz’s actions. The defense unsuccessfully objected to their presentation, arguing that they are only intended to inflame the emotions of jurors.
Dr. Iouri Boiko, the medical examiner who performed the four autopsies shown on Friday, said the largest and most gruesome injuries appeared when high-velocity bullets fired from Cruz’s semi-automatic rifle exited the body. . One girl had her head cut open, while another had her right shoulder blade missing. Another had lost most of a forearm and a bicep to three injuries. The Associated Press does not name the autopsy results of specific victims to protect the privacy of their families.
Boiko said a girl died from a bullet that grazed the top of her head when the shock wave fractured her skull, causing extensive brain damage. She also suffered a fatal chest wound. Most of the victims were shot multiple times.
Photos of bodies inside the classrooms included a boy leaning back in his seat, his body almost forming a U-shape. Blood flowed from under him.
Relatives of some victims held their heads as they listened to the doctor’s descriptions, while one family walked out.
Friday’s autopsies and earlier testimony from officers who charged into the building minutes after the shooting capped an already emotional and traumatic first week of the trial, which is expected to last four months. It included testimonials from teachers and students who saw a normal Valentine’s Day suddenly ravaged by a gunman who stalked a three-story classroom, shooting in hallways and classrooms for about seven minutes. .
It also included testimony and video of Cruz’s casual attitude as he visited a sandwich shop and McDonald’s just minutes after fleeing campus before his arrest.
Earlier Friday, Broward County Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Van Der Eems testified that when he entered the building about 10 minutes after the shooting began, he “saw a dead child on the floor to the left and there was smoke and dust in the ‘air”.
Worried the shooter was still in the building, he said he aimed his gun for cover while other officers led students and teachers out of the building and carried away the wounded. They didn’t know that Cruz had fled the building about three minutes earlier.
Van Der Eems and other officers entered the building immediately after arriving, about 10 minutes after the shooting began. Scot Peterson, then Broward’s deputy, the school’s security guard, is charged with child neglect for staying outside while Cruz continued to shoot. He has pleaded not guilty and is due to stand trial early next year. Other deputies were disciplined for not entering the building when they arrived.
Police in Uvalde, Texas are under fire for waiting more than an hour to confront a gunman who killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in May.
Coral Springs captain Nicholas Mazzei said while running to the building he found the body of assistant football coach Aaron Feis, who had been shot trying to stop Cruz.
“I checked him for vital signs, realized he was deceased,” Mazzei said. He said he then went inside and found athletic director Christopher Hixon, who later died from injuries he received while facing Cruz. He said they spoke, but prosecutors did not ask what was said.
Coral Springs Detective David Alfin said he walked up the stairs to the third-floor landing, where he found Cruz’s rifle and vest next to the body of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg.
“I checked his vital signs for his breath and pulse and couldn’t find any,” he said, adding that he had checked two or three times. “We stood there for a while and…heard a voice in the hallway.”
He, Van Der Eems and others went to the third floor, where they found more bodies and a badly injured Anthony Borges, who was lying in the middle of the hallway, raising his hand and trying to shout for their attention.
Nine American gunmen in addition to Cruz who killed at least 17 people died during or immediately after their shooting, either by suicide or by police gunfire. The suspect in the 2019 murder of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, is awaiting trial.
When jurors finally get the case, likely in October or November, they will vote 17 times, once for each of the victims, on whether to recommend capital punishment.
For each death sentence, the jury must be unanimous or the sentence for that victim is life. Jurors are told that in order to vote for death, the aggravating circumstances of the prosecution for that victim must, in their opinion, “outweigh” the mitigating circumstances of the defence. A juror can also vote for life out of pity for Cruz. During jury selection, panelists declared under oath that they were able to vote for either sentence.
Associated Press reporter Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., contributed to this report.