The visit, Judge Elizabeth Scherer explained to jurors on Wednesday, is intended to help them analyze the evidence presented so far in the trial of Nikolas Cruz, who faces the death penalty or life in prison after pleading guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts. of attempted murder.
The jury’s verdict Thursday comes more than four years and five months after the shooting, on what would have been victim Joaquin Oliver’s 22nd birthday, his parents told CNN.
Joaquin’s mother, Patricia Oliver, said she hopes jurors will take away “emotions” after visiting the building, which was closed to preserve it for the trial. Officials have said that it will be torn down.
Jurors were instructed Wednesday to “avoid touching, manipulating or moving anything.” The judge also told them to explore the scene individually and at their own pace, moving as a group from floor to floor. Cruz is not expected to be at the scene of the crime.
“Nothing will be explained or given to you,” the judge’s instructions said. Jurors were also told not to speak to anyone until the observation was complete.
Jurors will not be allowed to have a smart phone, smart watch or camera of any kind, during jury viewing. In court, attorneys encouraged the judge to ask jurors to wear closed-toe shoes because they could find glass on the floor.
The current phase of the trial is deciding Cruz’s sentence: Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, while Cruz’s defense attorneys are asking the jury to sentence him to life in prison without parole. To recommend a death sentence, jurors must be unanimous. If they do, the judge could follow the recommendation or sentence Cruz to life.
‘I can’t be happy if I smile,’ says the victim’s father
After the visit, several impact statements are expected in court, the judge said.
Much of the testimony in the Broward County court – especially from the parents of the 14 students who were killed – focused on all the things the victims and their families will not be able to do and the irreparable damage to their daily lives.
“Our family is broken. There is this constant emptiness,” said Max Schachter, father of 14-year-old Alex, who loved chocolate chip cookies, playing the trombone and video games.
“I feel like I can’t be happy if I smile,” Schachter said Wednesday. “I know that behind that smile is the sharp realization that a part of me will always be sad and miserable because Alex is not here.”
The loss of her daughter Meadow Pollack, 18, has ruined Shara Kaplan’s “life,” she told the jury Tuesday, “and my ability to ever have a productive life.” To express how her daughter’s death affected her, she said, she would have to rip out her heart and show them how it broke into a million pieces.
And the Hoyer family will never be the same. “We were a family unit of five always trying to fit into a world set for even numbers,” said Tom Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son Luke – the youngest of three – was killed. “Two, four, six-seat tables in a restaurant. Two, four, six-ticket packages to events. Things like that.”
But the Hoyers are no longer a family of five, and “the world will never feel right, now that we are a family of four,” Hoyer said.
“When Lúcás died something went missing in me,” he said. “And I will not, get over that feeling.”
To make their sentencing decision, jurors will hear prosecutors and defense attorneys argue aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances — reasons why Cruz should or shouldn’t be executed.
The victim impact statements add another layer, giving the families and friends of the victims their own day in court, although the judge told the jury the statements were not meant to be weighed as aggravating factors.
CNN’s Sara Weisfeldt and Leyla Santiago contributed to this report.