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Judge declines to drop death penalty for Parkland, Fla., school shooter

Judge declines to drop death penalty for Parkland, Fla., school shooter
Nikolas Cruz faces the death penalty during his sentencing trial scheduled to begin in January. File Photo courtesy of the  Broward County Sheriff | License Photo

Dec. 7 (UPI) -- A Florida judge on Tuesday denied Nikolas Cruz's request to remove the death penalty from consideration in his upcoming sentencing hearing for the 2018 school shooting in Parkland.

Cruz pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting, which left 14 students and three school staffers dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

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He must still face the punishment phase of his trial in which a jury will decide whether he should receive the death penalty.

Defense lawyers said the death penalty should not be up for consideration during the sentencing, WFOR-TV in Miami reported. They said former state attorney Michael Satz didn't have a consistent policy for seeking the death penalty.

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Additionally, assistant public defender Tamara Curtis said that if the death penalty is considered, the court shouldn't allow survivors to read victim impact statements, which she said "will appeal to and have a tendency to overwhelm the emotions of jurors." She said the statements would cause emotions to factor into jury deliberations too much, WTVJ-TV in Miami reported.

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Curtis also sought to have the death penalty taken off the table, saying the fact that Cruz killed students and staffers at a school shouldn't be considered disruption of a public function and targeting of appointed officials -- both aggravating factors for seeking the death penalty.

Assistant state attorney Carolyn McCann disagreed, saying Cruz "didn't choose to target a mall with shoppers."

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"He chose to target students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ... he disrupted school and he hindered school."

Judge Elizabeth Scherer declined the defense's arguments and said she would keep the death penalty as a possibility during Cruz's sentencing hearing. Jury selection for the sentencing is scheduled to begin Jan. 4.

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