Dried blood, bullet holes and Valentine's Day chocolates: Inside Nikolas Cruz trial jury's visit to Parkland
WARNING: This article contains graphic imagery and content that some readers may find distressing. Discretion is advised.
Jurors, in the sentencing phase of Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, visited the blood-stained scene of the massacre at the school’s 1200 building on Thursday, August 4, as part of the trial to decide whether the 23-year-old shooter should receive the death penalty.
According to AP, Judge Elizabeth Scherer explained the visit by the seven-man, five-woman jury and 10 alternates was meant to help them analyze the evidence presented so far in the trial of Cruz, who faces either the death penalty or life in prison after pleading guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Jurors were instructed on August 3 to "avoid touching, manipulating or moving anything." The judge guided them to explore the crime scene on their own and at their own pace, moving as a group from floor to floor.
No smartphones were allowed
The jury was not allowed to have a smartphone, smartwatch, or any type of camera during the visit. Moreover, the jurors were asked to wear closed-toe shoes to avoid an encounter with glass on the floor.
First-hand public view of 1200 building
After the jury's visit, a group of journalists was allowed in for a first public view. According to CNN, the school’s 1200 building, which has been sealed since the attack on February 14, 2018, still has blood stains on the floor, doors and walls have bullet holes, and there are rotting flowers, including a heart-shaped box of Valentine's Day chocolates in room 1230 on the second floor, there are calculators still on desks and open spiral notebooks, among other scattered objects. The report by AP states that in the classroom of English teacher Dara Hass, where most students were shot, there were essays about Malala Yousafzai. One of the students wrote, “A bullet went straight to her head but not her brain.” Another wrote, “We go to school every day of the week and we take it all for granted."
There was dried blood outside room 1215 on the first floor where three students were killed. In room 1214 were two yellowed copies of the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. In room 1255, the whiteboard read, "How to write the perfect love letter." Only the bodies and personal belongings such as backpacks have been removed, the AP report suggests. The long-awaited visit to the scene lasted about an hour and 30 minutes, as per Local10.
Parents take on the jury's visit
Patricia Oliver, the mother of victim Joaquin Oliver, told CNN that she hoped "emotions" would be the jurors' main takeaway after visiting the building. Manuel Oliver, Joaquin's father, who is now an activist and addresses gun violence, said: "We were, of course, knowing that this moment will arrive. It's a moment that is part of a process. The most important thing here is what happened to our son, the way he suffered that day and what are we capable of doing after that. That's what really matters here."
According to CBS, Miami defense attorney David S Weinstein said prosecutors are hoping the visit will be "the final piece in erasing any doubt that any juror might have had that the death penalty is the only recommendation that can be made."
Prior to the visit, the jury had already seen surveillance video of the shooting and photographs of its aftermath. Also, the Broward County school district has plans to demolish the building once prosecutors approve. For now, it is a court exhibit.