Cruz, now 23, was “cold, calculative, manipulative and deadly” in his attack, which lasted just over six minutes, said prosecutor Michael Satz. Three days before the shooting, he spoke into his cellphone camera and declared, “Hello, my name is Nik. I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018,” according to Satz.
The trial, which is likely to last months, will delve more deeply into Cruz’s personal history and will feature accounts from victims’ families and those wounded in the massacre.
The prosecution began opening statements with a detailed timeline of the attack. On February 14, 2018, Cruz took an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, walked inside and fatally shot teenage students in the hallway, fired into several classrooms and shot three adults who were trying to protect students from the carnage, Satz said.
The gunman also retraced his steps and shot several of his victims repeatedly. One victim, 14-year-old Peter Wang, was shot 13 times, Satz said.
In all, Cruz fired 139 rounds inside the school, including 70 on the first floor, two in the stairwell, six on the second floor and 61 on the third floor, according to Satz.
Cruz then dropped his rifle and left the school, blending in with the fleeing crowd. He went to a Subway to get an Icee — even leaving a tip — and drank it on a bench, Satz said. He was spotted by an officer and arrested about three miles from the school just over an hour after the shooting.
Satz said Monday there were seven aggravating factors in the killing weighing in favor of the death penalty, including that the attack disrupted a government function (i.e. school) and that the killings were “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.”
“These aggravating factors far outweigh any mitigating circumstances, anything about the defendant’s background, anything about his childhood, anything about his schooling, anything about his mental health, anything about his therapy, anything about his care,” Satz said.
Satz also told jurors they would be shown surveillance video from inside the school showing the attack.
In court, Cruz sat silently during the proceedings, wearing large glasses, a black face mask, a collared shirt and a sweater. Several parents and relatives of the victims cried in court and at least one of them left the courtroom.
The defense elected to delay its opening statements until later in the trial.
A fraught jury selection process
The opening statements come after the court spent weeks whittling down a pool of hundreds of potential jurors, working to determine who could commit the time to serve and probing their thoughts on the case and whether they could be fair.
Of the 12 jurors, seven are men and five are women. Nine alternates are women, and one is a man.
“She obviously did that on purpose to get out of jury selection,” the judge said, according to the TV station. Scherer dismissed the rest of the panel.
During jury selection, Cruz’s defense attorneys asked the court for a delay, arguing the “wave of emotion” triggered by a spate of recent shootings would undermine his right to a fair trial, court records show. But state Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the motion, saying shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde had not compromised court proceedings or Cruz’s ability to get a fair trial.
What happens in a trial’s penalty phase
Cruz now faces a jury because a defendant in Florida deemed guilty of a capital offense undergoes a separate phase of court proceedings to determine the sentence. In the penalty phase, the court reviews the case and the defendant’s history to decide whether he or she deserves death or a lesser sentence like life in prison.
The court generally will hear reasons why the defendant should or should not be put to death, known as aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances, respectively.
In Cruz’s case, the jury must be unanimous in finding beyond a reasonable doubt at least one aggravating factor exists. If it happens, jurors must then be unanimous in recommending the defendant be put to death, or his sentence would default to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If they recommend death, the judge could choose to follow the recommendation or sentence Cruz to life instead.
The penalty phase could include jurors visiting the scene of the mass shooting, according to court documents. Judge Scherer wrote a visit would allow the jurors to analyze “several of the aggravators” the state seeks to prove, the documents show.
Geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35; wrestling coach Chris Hixon, 49; and assistant football coach Aaron Feis, 37, also were killed — each while running toward danger or trying to help students to safety.
CNN’s Alta Spells and Carlos Suarez contributed to this report.