Dried Blood and Roses: The Jury Gets a Rare Look at the Parkland Scene

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL –

The roses that had been brought out to honor love on that Valentine’s Day in 2018 lay withered, their dried and cracked petals strewn across classroom floors still stained with the blood of victims shot to death by a former student more than four years before.

Bullet holes pierced walls and shards of glass from gunshot-shattered windows crunched eerily underfoot at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where shooter Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members. Nothing had been changed, except for the transfer of the bodies of the victims and some personal belongings.

The 12 jurors and 10 alternates who will decide whether Cruz receives the death penalty or life in prison made a rare visit to the scene of the massacre Thursday, following Cruz through the three-story student building of first year, known as “Building 12”. After they left, a group of journalists were allowed in for a much quicker first public viewing.

The sight was deeply disturbing: large pools of dried blood still stained the classroom floors. A lock of dark hair rested on the floor where the body of one of the victims once lay. A single black rubber shoe stood in a hallway. Golden rose petals were strewn across a hallway where six people died.

In one classroom, open notebooks showed incomplete lesson plans: A blood-covered book called “Tell Them We Remember” sat on a bullet-riddled desk in the classroom where teacher Ivy Schamis taught students about the Holocaust. . Attached to a bulletin board in the room, a sign read, “We’ll Never Forget You.”

In the classroom of English teacher Dara Hass, where most of the students were shot dead, the students had written articles about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for going to school and who has since She has been a global advocate for access to education for women. and girls

One of the students wrote: “A bullet went straight to his head but not to his brain.” Another said: “We go to school every day of the week and take everything for granted. We cry and complain without knowing how lucky we are to be able to learn”.

The door to room 1255, teacher Stacey Lippel’s classroom, was pushed open, like others, to indicate Cruz shot her. Hanging on an interior wall was a sign that read, “No Bullying Zone.” The creative writing assignment for the day was written on the board: “How to write the perfect love letter.”

And still hanging on a second-floor hallway wall was a quote from James Dean: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”

Inside the geography classroom of slain professor Scott Beigel, his laptop was still open on his desk. Student assignments comparing the principles of Christianity and Islam remained there, some graded, some not. On his blackboard, Beigel, the school’s cross-country coach, had been writing down the gold, silver and bronze medalists in each event at the Winter Olympics, which had started five days earlier.

Prosecutors, who wrapped up their case after the jury tour, hope the visit will help prove Cruz’s actions were cold, calculated, heinous and cruel; he created a great risk of death for many people and “interfered with a function of the government,” all aggravating factors under Florida capital law.

Under Florida court rules, neither the judge nor the attorneys were allowed to speak to jurors, and jurors were not allowed to converse with each other, when they retraced Cruz’s path on February 14, 2018, while he moved methodically. from floor to floor, shooting down hallways and into classrooms as she went. Prior to the tour, jurors had already seen surveillance video of the shooting and photos of its aftermath.

The building has been sealed off and is now surrounded by a 15-foot (4.6-meter) chain-link fence wrapped in a zip-tie privacy mesh screen. It looms ominously over the school and its teachers, staff and 3,300 students, and can be easily seen by anyone nearby. The Broward County school district plans to tear it down when approved by prosecutors. For now, it is a judicial exhibition.

“When you drive by, it’s there. When you go to class, she is there. It’s just a colossal structure that you can’t miss,” said Kai Koerber, who was a Stoneman Douglas junior at the time of the shooting. He is now at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the developer of a mental health phone app. “It’s just a constant reminder … that it’s tremendously difficult and horrible.”

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder; the trial is only to determine whether he is sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

Miami defense attorney David S. Weinstein said prosecutors hope the visit will be “the final piece to erase any doubt any jury may have had that the death penalty is the only recommendation that can be made.”

Such visits to the crime scene are rare. Weinstein, a former prosecutor, said that in more than 150 jury trials since the late 1980s, he has had only one.

One reason is that they are a logistical nightmare for the judge, who needs to get the jury to the scene and return to court without incident, or risk a mistrial. And in a typical case, a visit would not even present truthful evidence: after the police leave, the building or public space returns to normal use. The scene is cleaned up, objects are moved, and repairs are made. That is why judges order jurors in many trials not to visit the scene on their own.

Craig Trocino, a University of Miami law professor who has represented defendants appealing their death sentences, said the visit, combined with the myriad of graphic videos and photos the jury has already seen, could open a way for Cruz’s lawyers if they find themselves in the same situation. .

“At some point, the evidence becomes incendiary and damaging,” he said. “The site visit can be a cumulative cornerstone.”

Cruz’s attorneys have argued that prosecutors have used evidence not only to prove their case, but also to inflame the passions of jurors.

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