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Penalty trial delayed for Parkland shooter; police say teen charged in Texas killings is armed and dangerous

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Penalty trial delayed for Parkland shooter

A judge on Wednesday postponed the penalty trial for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz until February.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer stated in a court order that both parties requested more time to prepare experts for trial, saying they would not be ready to start on the scheduled date, Jan. 4. Scherer postponed the trial to Feb. 21.

Cruz pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Once jurors are selected, they will decide whether he is sentenced to death or life without parole.

For Cruz to be sentenced to death, the 12-member jury must agree unanimously. Scherer decided earlier this month to allow the victims’ families to testify, rejecting an attempt by Cruz’s attorneys to bar parents and others to speak directly to the jury. The attorneys argued that could result in “overly emotional displays” that would violate Cruz’s right to a fair trial.

The trial has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and arguments over what evidence and testimony will be permitted.

— Associated Press

Police warn about teen charged in 3 killings

Dallas-area police have charged a 14-year-old with capital murder in a triple killing at a gas station and are warning that the boy is at large, armed and dangerous.

Police in Garland are seeking Abel Elias Acosta and said Wednesday that they have evidence showing he was the shooter who left three teens dead and wounded a fourth at the suburban gas station’s convenience store Sunday.

Acosta is the son of Richard Acosta, 33, who turned himself in to police Monday and is also charged with capital murder for acting as a getaway driver in the shooting, police said. A juvenile court has issued an order to take the younger Acosta into custody, police said, and authorized them to publicly release his name.

Prosecutors will determine whether the teen is charged as a minor or an adult, said Garland police Lt. Pedro Barineau.

The Washington Post and the Associated Press typically do not name juveniles suspected of a crime but are doing so in this case because authorities said he is a threat to public safety. Police released a photo from social media Wednesday of a boy holding a gun who they said is Acosta.

Acosta is not the 14-year-old whom Garland police arrested Monday as a suspect in the shooting and then released to his family the next day, Barineau said. That teenager, whom police have not identified by name, is not the shooter but remains a “person of interest” in the investigation, he said.

Police described the younger Acosta as a light-skinned Hispanic boy with dark hair and brown eyes. He is about 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs about 125 pounds, they said.

The shooting was captured on surveillance video. It shows a shirtless boy or man with a handgun approaching the gas station store while crouched. He swings open the door and starts shooting from the doorway.

Police previously said the shooter fired more than 20 rounds from a .40-caliber pistol before fleeing in the Dodge Ram pickup driven by Richard Acosta, who they said also brought the gunman to the gas station.

Those killed were Xavier Gonzalez, 14, Ivan Noyala, 16, and Rafael Garcia, 17, according to police. A 15-year-old who was a cook at the store was taken to the hospital following the shooting and was expected to survive.

Investigators said the shooting was a retaliatory attack on one or more of the people in the store, Barineau said.

An attorney for the elder Acosta, who is being held on a $1 million bond, could not be immediately identified.

— Associated Press

Anger management ordered for officer

A Mississippi police officer has been ordered to take an anger management class after a video showed him pushing a man down during an arrest and forcefully pressing his knee into the man’s back.

Vicksburg police officer Eddie Colbert was suspended 15 days with pay, and he must take the class after he returns to work, the Vicksburg Post reported. The mayor and aldermen also ordered Colbert to have a 45-day probation period.

“The behavior of the officer was indefensible, in my opinion, but it did not rise to a level of termination,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Tuesday.

Flaggs spoke after he and other city officials had a closed-door hearing with Police Chief Penny Jones and three deputy chiefs about Colbert’s actions during the arrest early Sunday. The newspaper reported Colbert testified during the hearing.

Officials examined videos from the arrest, including one shot by an onlooker and posted online that showed Colbert arresting a man after the department received a call about a downtown disturbance early Sunday. It showed Colbert pushing the man down onto a brick-paved street, WAPT-TV reported. The man was lying on his stomach when he raised his head and appeared to say something to the officer. Colbert then forcefully knelt on the man’s back.

The man, John Dolley, was charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, which are misdemeanors, the Vicksburg Post reported. Flaggs said both Colbert and Dolley are Black.

News outlets reported Colbert was shot in the face in December 2020 while working as a security guard at a nightclub in Jackson.

— Associated Press