FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The accused shooter in the 2018 killing of 17 people at a Florida high school goes on trial this week for allegedly attacking a jail guard.
Jury selection begins Monday on charges of Nikolas Cruz, 23, attacking a Broward County jail guard nine months after the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
No trial date for the murder charges has been set. He will get either death or life in prison without parole if he is later convicted of first-degree murder.
“The accused murderer who took our children’s lives is clearly violent and took that out on a guard. He needs to face the justice system for that,” Tony Montalto, president of Stand With Parkland, a group comprised of victims’ families said to the Associated Press. His 14-year-old daughter, Gina, died in the shooting.
Cruz faces a possible 15-year sentence if convicted of attempted criminal battery on Sgt. Raymond Beltran. Attorneys for Cruz are expected to argue that Beltran provoked the fight.
AP reports if Cruz is convicted of attacking the guard, prosecutors can "argue that is an aggravating factor when they seek his execution during the penalty phase of his murder trial if convicted."
“If that is entered as an aggravating factor, it will be hard for that not to be in the back of the jury’s mind,” Mark Dobson, a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s law school and a former Florida prosecutor said to AP.
Cruz's lead attorney, Melisa McNeill, complained six weeks before the altercation about the guard's treatment towards Cruz, according to court documents, AP explains. There has been no information released about the alleged mistreatment.
There is a video of the fight from security cameras set up in the jail.
Cruz was recorded walking by himself around some tables in circles with his head down, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, a white long-sleeve undershirt and sandals, AP reports. Beltran is seen sitting at a table in the corner.
Suddenly, Cruz stops about 10 feet from the guard, who appears to be talking with each other, according to AP. Beltran told investigators that he had asked the 23-year-old to not drag his sandals because of possibly damaging them.
Cruz then goes on to put up both middle fingers towards the guard before charging at him, AP says. He was able to throw the larger-built Beltran to the ground but was flipped and pinned down shortly after.
AP reports that Cruz grabbed the guard's stun gun which they fight over as it went off. No one was jolted from the electric current.
After escaping from Beltran's grasp, Cruz is said to have punched him in the shoulder, AP explains. The guard hit Cruz in the head, staggering him a bit.
The fight ended by Beltran rearming his stun gun and pointing it at Cruz, who had already sat down on a bench connected to a table, AP says. The prisoner gets on the ground face down and is handcuffed.
No one was reportedly left with serious injuries following the altercation.
Jury selection for this case is scheduled to last three days because of Cruz's attorney wanting to wipe out any candidates who won't be able to separate their knowledge of the Stoneman Douglas shootings, AP explains. The trial is only expected to last one to three days once the jury is finalized.