Jury hears closing arguments in closely-watched Scot Peterson trial
The fate of former school resource officer Scot Peterson is in the hands of a Broward County jury who must decide if he failed to do his job as a police officer during the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Peterson, 60, is the first U.S. law enforcement officer prosecuted for his alleged actions and inaction during a mass shooting at a school.
Peterson's attoney and prosecutors gave their closing arguments on Monday morning, capping weeks of testimony from witnesses including teachers, students and other first responders.
Peterson faces nearly a century in prison if convicted of all 11 counts he is charged with, including multiple counts of felony child negligence.
The central question of the case was what Peterson heard and knew during the shooting. His lawyer argued that he did not know exactly where the shots were coming from or how many shooters there were.
"He doesn't know that there's one shooter. Nobody knows that. We have the luxury in this courtroom of hindsight. Hindsight is 20/20," Mark Eiglarsh told jurors during his two-hour long closing argument.
Eiglarsh recounted each witness, one-by-one, projecting their photos on television monitors around the courtroom, combing through their testimony and why it amounted to the state not having proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
"He was sacrificed. He was thrown under the bus," Eiglarsh said of Peterson, who was retroactively fired from the Broward Sheriff's Office after he resigned following the shooting. Peterson would have been blamed even if he left his "tactical position of cover" outside of the building, Eiglarsh said.
"He was damned no matter what. He couldn't win. Facts don't matter when your sacrificed."
Jurors will also have to decide if Peterson, as the school resource officer, was legally a caregiver and responsible for protecting the children in the school. Florida law defines a caregiver as “a parent, adult household member or other person responsible for a child’s welfare.” Caregivers are guilty of felony neglect if they fail to make a “reasonable effort” to protect children or don’t provide necessary care.
Prosecutors guided jurors through a detailed recounting of the shooting, weaving a timeline of the shooting with appeals to emotion — at one point reading out the names of the victims who were on the third floor of the 1200 building.
"He stands there with the knowledge of a 28-year deputy assigned to protecting children, knowing that the number one goal in that moment is move towards the sounds of gunfire," Assistant State Attorney Kristen Gomes told jurors during her closing argument.
Peterson sat next to his lawyer shaking his head and holding his head in his hands as prosecutors made their final case to jurors, which included audio of Peterson calling other officers over his police radio, pointing them towards the 1200 building.
"He was the only hope for those victims because he was the only hope to slow that shooter down," Gomes said. Even if he hadn't killed Cruz, his presence would have distracted him, giving students and teachers time to flee or hide, or caused him to surrender or commit suicide, she said.
“Choose to go in or choose to run? Scot Peterson chose to run,” Gomes said. “When the defendant ran, he left behind an unrestricted killer who spent the next four minutes and 15 seconds wandering the halls at his leisure. Because when Scot Peterson ran, he left them in a building with a predator unchecked.”
Peterson is charged with seven counts of felony child neglect for the children killed and injured on the third floor of the school building on Feb. 14, 2018. He also faces three counts of misdemeanor culpable negligence for the adults shot on the third floor, including a teacher and an adult student who died.
The charges only include the victims on the third floor because Peterson arrived outside the building after the shooter had moved on from the first floor where he killed 11 people.
The state also charged Peterson with perjury, saying he lied to investigators about how many gunshots he heard and the number of fleeing students he could see as he took cover,
Prosecutors, during their two-week presentation, called to the witness stand students, teachers and law enforcement officers who testified about the horror they experienced and how they knew where Cruz was. Some said they knew for certain the shots were coming from the 1200 building. Prosecutors also called a training supervisor who testified Peterson did not follow protocols for confronting an active shooter.
Eiglarsh during his two-day presentation called several deputies who arrived during the shooting and students and teachers who testified they did not think the shots were coming from the 1200 building. Peterson did not testify.
Eiglarsh also emphasized the failure of the sheriff's radio system during the attack, which limited what Peterson heard from arriving deputies. Gomes said the radio system worked well during the critical first minutes of the attack, with Peterson being the one with the best information as he was within feet of the building.
If convicted, Peterson could get a prison sentence of nearly a century and lose his $104,000 annual pension.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.