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Florida School Shooter's Trial Enters Penalty Phase

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz looks on during the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, July 18, 2022.

The gunman who attacked a Parkland, Florida, high school in 2018 returned to court Monday for the penalty phase of his trial, in which jurors will decide if he receives the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

The case of Nikolas Cruz is the United States' deadliest mass shooting to go before a jury. In October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The defendant is only contesting his sentence. The jury vote must be unanimous on all counts for Cruz to receive the death penalty.

Prosecutors are expected to highlight Cruz's coldness and brutality. The shooter posted a video online three days before the massacre, exposing his plans. He said his goal was to kill at least 20 people with an AR-15 rifle.

The day of the shooting, Cruz entered a three-story building and fired an AR-15 down the school hallways and into classrooms. In some cases, Cruz walked back to wounded victims and killed them with a second round of shots.

The defense plans on highlighting mental health problems plaguing Cruz from his childhood abuse. His lawyers argue his emotional and psychological issues stemmed from early alcohol exposure and abuse.

The trial is expected to take four months and will start with opening statements and witness accounts.

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