Jurors in the Parkland mass shooting trial were taken to the crime scene Thursday, a scene that is as much a time capsule as it is a towering piece of evidence in a criminal case that decides whether mercy should be offered to a gunman determined to kill as many people as he could.
The building has stood on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus for more than four years, an eyesore to many, for one purpose — a purpose finally realized Thursday as 12 jury members and 10 alternates retraced the steps of gunman Nikolas Cruz, over, past and through the results of his deadly rampage through the school.
Prosecutors say the exercise was necessary to prove what Cruz did was “heinous, atrocious and cruel,” that it was “cold, calculated and premeditated,” and that it caused and risked “great bodily harm” to the victims. Among other considerations, those are the factors that have to be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt before the death penalty can be recommended, sentenced and carried out.
Defense lawyers have argued that the jury cannot render a fair verdict after being bombarded with so much emotional testimony, so many graphic pictures, and a harrowing firsthand look at the carnage of Feb. 14, 2018.
It took about 90 minutes for the jury to make its way through the building.
They entered on the first floor, stepped into the stairwell where Cruz assembled his AR-15-style rifle. An abandoned stuffed teddy bear and blanket lay in a corner. In the hallway and in the classrooms, signs of a joyous day remained in stark contrast to the bloodstains, shattered glass and bullet holes in the windows and the walls.
In the Holocaust studies classroom where Nicholas Dworet, 17, and Helena Ramsay, 17, died, more than a dozen laptops sat open, abandoned mid-assignment when the shooting began. In one corner of the room, books lay on the floor, caked in dried blood. One was titled “Tell Them We Remember.”
In a nearby English classroom, several students had their notebooks open to an assignment about appreciating the opportunities before them. “We go to school every day of the week and we take it all for granted,” one student wrote. “We cry and complain without knowing how lucky we are to be able to learn.”
Jurors were able to see where Athletic Director Chris Hixon, 49, struggled to survive after he was shot trying to confront the gunman. A streak of blood led from that spot to the nearby exit where rescuers tried to save Hixon’s life.
The west end of the third-floor hallway was, at one time, drenched. The blood has long since dried but has never been washed away — it was kept in place so that this jury could see it. On the east end of the hallway, where teacher Scott Beigel, 35, died, the stains are not as pronounced.
But halfway up the hallway, what was once a large pool of blood marks the spot where Anthony Borges, who somehow survived, was shot five times.
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The damage climaxes where the last five victims died. Cruz fired at a group of students as they fled into a stairwell. Streaked bullet marks show he was firing toward the fleeing students, not firing randomly down the center of the hallway.
Perhaps the most overwhelming remnants of the attack are where victims Joaquin Oliver, 17, and Peter Wang, 15, were killed, especially when considering the expert medical testimony that described their deaths. Both were wounded, survived and sat stranded — until Cruz made his way to them and finished them off.
The shots that killed Oliver went through his raised hand, into his body and into the wall in the back of the alcove in which he tried to take cover.
Wang, shot a dozen times, was left in a pool of blood. Cruz then turned his attention to the windows above Wang, prosecutors said. There are six bullet holes in those windows. Had Cruz managed to break through them, he would have had a clear shot at hundreds of fleeing students.
Cruz had a legal right to attend the jury view of the crime scene. He told Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer Thursday morning that he would not exercise it.
Prosecutors rested their case Thursday afternoon.
Rafael Olmeda can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4457. Follow him on Twitter @rolmeda.