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Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz called 'cold,' 'calculative' as death penalty trial opens

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All 12 jurors would have to agree on giving Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz the death penalty. If even one juror disagrees, the gunman would receive life in prison without parole. File Photo via Broward County Sheriff/UPI
All 12 jurors would have to agree on giving Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz the death penalty. If even one juror disagrees, the gunman would receive life in prison without parole. File Photo via Broward County Sheriff/UPI | License Photo

July 18 (UPI) -- The death penalty trial for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz began in Florida on Monday after a long delay with a state prosecutor calling him "cold, calculative, manipulative and deadly" in opening arguments.

"I'm going to speak to you about the unspeakable," prosecutor Mike Satz told jurors during a trial to determine whether Cruz will spend the rest of his life in prison or be put to death.

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Satz told jurors that Cruz fired 139 shots killing 14 students and three adults during his rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018., the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

"All 17 were heinous, atrocious and cruel," Satz said. "All 17 were cold, calculated, manipulative and deadly."

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Satz said that Cruz had been planning to be a school shooter "long before" his mother passed away and he moved in with James and Kimberly Snead.

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"Hello, my name is Nik. I'm going to be the next school shooter of 2018," Cruz allegedly said as he spoke into his cell phone camera three days before the attack, according to Satz.

He ran jurors through a detailed timeline retracing Cruz's steps before, during and after the Valentine's Day massacre and said there were seven aggravating factors that warrant the death penalty.

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"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.

Reporters for CNN and the Sun-Sentinel described the jurors as struggling to suppress their emotions before the court as family members of the victims began to cry and leave the room. Cruz, meanwhile, was reported to have sat silently during the proceedings.

The first witnesses appeared to testify Monday, including a former teacher Brittany Sinitch, whose 911 call was also played for the court, and former students who described the events in detail.

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"We were sitting ducks. There was no way to protect ourselves," testified Danielle Gilbert, who was in a classroom in which one student was shot dead and three others were injured.

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Prosecutors also showed the jury cell phone video footage which many gunshots and an alarm could be heard ringing as people screamed.

"Shut it off!" a family member of one of the victims said from the audience as a second audio clip of the gunfire was introduced as evidence.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer told the court she had received an affidavit from someone stating that a juror had spoken about the case including their feelings about the death penalty, raising questions about a fair trial before it even began.

However, Scherer said she was inclined to believe the juror who denied speaking about the case, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

"I can't take the word of someone I've never met with a juror I've spent hours with," Scherer said. "The juror has never been anything but forthcoming."

Cruz pleaded guilty last October to 17 counts of first-degree murder and is facing a sentencing trial to determine whether he will receive the death penalty after weighing the aggregating factors established by Satz.

Seven men and five women were chosen to sit on the panel after nearly three months of jury selection. There are 10 alternates.

All 12 jurors would have to agree on giving Cruz, 23, the death penalty. If even one juror disagrees, the gunman would receive life in prison without parole.

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Cruz's attorneys filed a motion to delay the sentencing trial after mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, this year -- arguing that the "wave of emotion" would prevent him from getting a fair trial, but Scherer denied the motion.

However, the jury selection process was disrupted several times when potential jurors had to be dismissed.

In one instance, an entire room of potential jurors were dismissed after one mouthed expletives at Cruz and others became "belligerent." In another, a woman wore a T-shirt with the high school's official colors and the text "Teacher Strong #neveragain #msdstrong."

At least two of the 12 jurors on the panel own guns and another two said they had previous military experience, WPLG-TV reported.

Jurors were also asked about their thoughts of the mental health profession, with at least four mentioning having received mental health services or knowing someone who works in the field.

One of the jurors works as a federal immigration officer and another is a probation officer. At least three have ties to law enforcement or the legal profession.

Jurors were also asked for their opinions on how they felt about children between 12 and 14 playing the first-person shooter video game Call of Duty.

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"The game is more for storyline, it is more like watching a movie, like a military movie," said one juror, the father of three young children, according to WPLG-TV.

"You are controlling that character from their eyes. I don't see a difference between watching a military movie or playing that game."

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