Jurors prepare to deliberate on sentencing for Parkland shooter

MIAMI, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Prosecutors portrayed the man who killed 17 people at a Florida high school in 2018 as a calculating and brutal murderer, while his defense attorney pleaded for mercy before jurors begin deliberating on whether he should be sentenced to death.

Nikolas Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty last year to premeditated murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 30 miles (50 km) north of Fort Lauderdale. The Valentine's Day school shooting was among the deadliest in U.S. history.

The 12-member jury will begin sequestered deliberations on Wednesday. Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer recommended that jurors take "at least a few days" of clothing and medication.

Prosecutor Michael Satz argued Cruz's crime was heinous and premeditated, insisting that aggravating factors outweigh arguments for leniency.

"He was shooting the kids in the classroom that were hiding or attempting to hide," Satz said.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz speaks with paralegal Melissa Sly during a break in the penalty phase of Cruz's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., September 1, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. Amy Beth Bennett/Pool via REUTERS

The penalty phase of the trial, which has lasted nearly three months, has included testimony from survivors of the shooting as well as cell phone videos in which terrified students cried for help or spoke in hushed whispers as they hid.

Cruz's defense attorney said he should not be sentenced to death, citing factors such as mental health disorders resulting from his biological mother's substance abuse during pregnancy.

"There is no time in our life when we are more vulnerable to the will and the whim of another human being than when we are growing and developing in the womb of our mothers," said Melisa McNeill, Cruz's lead public defender.

Cruz was 19 and had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas at the time of the massacre. In his guilty plea, he said he was "very sorry" and asked to be given a chance to help others.

U.S. gun violence has gained renewed attention following mass shootings in May at a school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead, and another, also in May, at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Donna Bryson, Deepa Babington and Mark Porter

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