A jury has begun deliberations on the fate of the gunman responsible for a 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Nikolas Cruz, 24, had pleaded guilty in October last year to 17 counts of murder and attempted murder.
The jury will decide whether the gunman should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
The case is the deadliest mass shooting to reach a jury trial in the US.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer delivered instructions to the jury on Wednesday morning before they were sequestered for deliberations. Survivors of the shooting were also in the court room.
“It is now your duty to make a decision as to the appropriate sentence that should be imposed on Nikolas Jacob Cruz”, Judge Scherer told the 12 jurors, emphasising that “a human life is at stake”.
During the trial, which began in July, prosecutors argued the gunman planned a “systematic massacre” of 14 students and three staff members at Parkland, and that he should be sentenced to death.
They said he had conducted research online prior to the attack and posted online comments in which he vowed to show “no mercy”.
“What he wanted to do, what his plan was, and what he did, was to murder children at school and their caretakers,” assistant state attorney Michael Satz said.
According to the gunman’s defense attorney Melisa McNeill, he is a troubled man who was impacted by his mother’s alcohol and drug abuse.
A death sentence, according to McNeill, “would not change anything” and “would not bring the victims back.”
Families of the deceased gave victim impact statements to the court as well.
Florida is one of the 27 US states that have the death penalty. However, the number of executions per year in the US has decreased over the years, from 98 in 1999 to just 11 in 2021.
When a defendant is found guilty of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances, such as killings that are “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel,” pose “a risk of death to many persons,” or were “cold, calculated,” the prosecution may ask for the death penalty.
In the majority of criminal cases in the US, a jury determines guilt and the judge determines punishment. But in this case, Cruz’s sentence will be determined by the jury.
To recommend the death penalty, all five women and seven men on the jury must concur.
Florida last carried out an execution in 2019 when 57-year-old Gary Ray Bowles was executed for the 1994 slayings of six men.