FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Months after being jailed for the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the shooter got into a fight with a uniformed deputy guarding him at Broward Main Jail, an altercation that has was captured on surveillance video that was shown to a jury on Wednesday.
The video, which had already been made public, is not particularly graphic. It shows shooter Nikolas Cruz, in his prison-issued orange jumpsuit, exchanging words with Sgt. Raymond Beltran before rushing the deputy and grabbing his stun gun.
Beltran testified Wednesday during Cruz’s penalty phase trial at the Broward County Courthouse. Prosecutors ask jurors to consider the incident to decide whether Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison.
The fight between Cruz and Beltran lasted less than a minute on November 13, 2018, and the stun gun was fired. No one was hit, but Beltran said he was worried.
“He could taser me, he could incapacitate me. I was fighting to get my Taser back,” Beltran said.
Beltran eventually overpowered Cruz and no one was seriously hurt.
Cruz was due to stand trial for that assault in October when he and his defense team apparently changed tack, choosing to plead guilty not only to the prison battery, but also to the 17 murders and 17 attempted murders in the shooting at the school as well.
The jail case carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, but in light of the Parkland High School massacre, it will have no real effect on Cruz’s sentence unless jurors decide it weighs heavily. in favor of the imposition of the death penalty.
So far, defense attorneys have refused to cross-examine most witnesses, asking only a handful of questions to clarify legal issues or set the stage for the defense. For example, when the dealer who sold the gun to Cruz testified, the defense lawyers had him explain to the jury that the sale would have been illegal today. Cruz was 18 when he bought the gun. After the Parkland shooting, state law was changed to raise the age limit to 21.
Along with Beltran, defense attorneys wanted to ask about an apparent reckless driving incident in Washington state. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled the incident was irrelevant to the prison assault and did not reflect poorly on Beltran’s honesty, so the jury never heard the Questions.
Instead, Deputy Public Defender David Wheeler had Beltran told that he did not see a doctor after the incident and was placed on administrative duty for more than two years afterwards. At the time, defense attorneys tried to stop Beltran from keeping Cruz, but as a matter of principle, the sheriff’s office never banned Beltran from doing so.
Banning Beltran from guarding Cruz would have invited further assaults on jail deputies, attorneys for the Broward Sheriff’s Office said.
Testimony continued on Wednesday with deputies testifying to the recovery of the defendant’s mobile phone from the crime scene. When the trial opened, Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Satz told jurors about the chilling videos Cruz had recorded on that phone three days before the shooting. Cruz is seen enthusiastically discussing his filming plans.
“It’s going to be a biiiiig event,” he said. “When you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am.”
The cellphone also contains keys to the shooter’s social media story, which revealed his fascination with firearms and his disdain for various religious and ethnic groups.
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