FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors spent three weeks telling jurors how Nicholas Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school four years ago. His lawyers will now get a chance to show why they believe he did it, hoping to get him life in prison without parole instead of death.

Melissa McNeil, Cruz’s top public defender, is expected to give it introductory word Monday, delaying his arraignment since the trial began a month ago.

She and her team will then begin to outline their 23-year-old client’s life history: his birth mother’s alcohol and cocaine abuse during pregnancy, which led to possible fetal alcohol syndrome; his serious mental and emotional problems; his alleged sexual abuse by a “trusted peer”; the bullying he endured; and the deaths of his adoptive father when he was 5 and his adoptive mother four months before his Feb. 14, 2018 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

McNeil’s decision to delay her opening statement appeared to be part of a larger strategy not to deny or downplay anything prosecutors told jurors about the Cruz massacre — he pleaded guilty in October on 17 counts of first-degree murder. This court is for sentencing only; in a jury of seven men and five women will consider whether the aggravating circumstances of the prosecution “outweigh” the mitigating factors of the defense.

The defense “will say, ‘Look, you saw what happened — we’re not going to argue that. It was horrible, it was horrible, it was horrible, whatever adjectives you want to use,” said David S. Weinstein, a Miami defense attorney and former prosecutor. But then the defense would add, “He never had a chance, and therefore his poor victims never had a chance.”

It is the deadliest mass shooting in the United States that has ever gone to trial. Nine other gunmen, who killed at least 17 people, died during or shortly after their shootings by suicide or police fire. The suspect in In 2019, the killing of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, awaiting trial.

During the prosecution, McNeill’s team never questioned the faculty or students who witnessed the murders, and had only brief, mild exchanges with several other witnesses.

One teacher from a class where no one was shot was asked about the absence of a security guard in the three-story building where the murders took place. If the gun shop owner who sold Cruz AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle used in the homicide affidavit, they asked what Florida’s minimum age was in 2017 to buy a rifle — 18 — and 21 today.

Neither they nor prosecutors at the time asked the store owner why the law was changed: Cruz was 19 when the shooting happened and the Republican-led legislature raised the age limit as part of a broader package of gun laws enacted in response to the shooting.

Cruz’s youth will be part of his defense, and while U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Scherer has barred the defense from testifying that directly blames third parties, such as school administrators, for failing to prevent the shooting, McNeil and her team will likely try indirectly express such points.

To win Cruz a life sentence, the defense will only need to convince one of the 12 jurors, but they will have to do so on all 17 counts, one for each victim. For example, a reluctant juror could be forced to vote for the death of victims in whom surveillance video showed Cruz shot multiple times as they lay wounded and helpless.

The defense will try to cover terrible evidence that was laid out by the prosecutor’s office, concluded with a visit of the jury on August 4 to the fenced building that Cruz pursued for seven minutes, firing about 150 shots through the hallways and into classrooms. Jurors saw dried blood on the floor and walls, bullet holes in doors and windows and the remains of balloons, flowers and Valentine’s Day cards.

The prosecutor’s office also presented graphics video from surveillance cameras various; gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos from its consequences; emotional testimonies of teachers and students who witnessed the death of others; and four days tearful and angry statements from parents, spouse and other family members about victims and how they the death of a loved one affected their lives. Jurors also watched the video Cruz calmly orders a cherry blue raspberry Icee minutes after the shooting and nine months later attack the prison guard.

It is not known how long the defense will take, but the court recently said it will continue after Labor Day in two weeks. The prosecution will then have an opportunity to present a rebuttal before it goes to a jury trial.

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