FORT LAUDERDALE – A judge on Thursday recommended life in prison without parole for Nikolas Cruz, who pleaded guilty to killing 17 people in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Family members of the victims sat in the living room and scratched, shook their heads or held their hands as District Judge Elizabeth Scherer read the recommendation Thursday. The 12-member jury reached its verdict after seven hours of deliberations over two days, ending a three-month trial in which the victims’ executions were clearly explained.
Scherer will be formally sentenced to life in prison Nov.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Cruz. But under Florida law, the death penalty requires a unanimous vote on one count. While jurors found that the overwhelming evidence was enough to convict the gunman of death, one believed that the mitigating factors outweighed the aggravating factors.
Cruz, then 19 and now 24, pleaded guilty in 2021 to killing 17 people and injuring 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018.
The families of the victims express dismay at the outcome
Alyssa Alhadeff’s parents had no doubt that their daughter’s killer would be sentenced to death when they arrived in court Thursday morning. Waiting was torture, they said. The verdict was ultimately negative.
“This should have been a death sentence, 100%,” said Alyssa’s mother, Lori Alhadeff. “I took my daughter to school, and she was shot eight times.”
The results are incomprehensible, he said. Her husband, Ilan, also spoke.
“I’m disgusted by their behavior. I’m disgusted by the system,” he said. “That you can allow 17 dead and 17 others shot and injured and not give the death penalty. What do we have the death penalty?”
Jurors set a dangerous precedent by recommending life, he said. He encouraged the audience to “stand up and say ‘It’s not good.’ “
Jurors recommend a life sentence for Nikolas Cruz
Jurors’ decision comes more than four years after the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida – the deadliest mass shooting in US history – and concludes three months of clear evidence and shocking evidence.
Those who have previously stood before the court to give statements of conviction crowded the gallery next to those who have entered the court since the first day.
The smiling face of Scott Beigel, one of Cruz’s victims, peeked out from Scott’s mother’s cell phone key. He tapped the screen every time it got dark, he looked at her waiting for the verdict.
Its arrival on Thursday morning surprised some. Judge Scherer urged jurors to take their time deliberating, reminding them Tuesday that “a person’s life is at stake.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented their closing arguments on Tuesday. The state urged jurors to sentence Cruz to death while his defense attorneys pleaded for leniency, insisting that the gun would “punish” him from birth.
Judge Scherer will sentence Cruz on Nov. 1 and 9 am During that hearing, survivors of the shooting will have the opportunity to express their views on the verdict.
“Victims have a right to testify,” said Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann.
Prosecutor: Cruz was ‘hunting victims’
Throughout the trial, lead prosecutor Michael Satz painted a picture of Cruz as a brutal killer who masterminded the 2018 Valentine’s Day killings and has antisocial personality disorder, not fetal alcohol syndrome as attorneys claim. Witnesses testified that Cruz’s birth mother drank drugs and alcohol while pregnant.
With family members of the victims lining the courtroom, Satz recounted the gruesome, bloody horrors that took place on the first and third floors of the new school building, vividly describing to jurors the deaths of students and staff.
Cruz, Satz said, was “hunting his people” and even returned to kill students such as Peter Yang and Joaquin Oliver who suffered initial non-fatal gunshot wounds, according to medical examiners who testified during the four-month trial. Read more here.
Defense: Cruz ‘broken and brain damaged’
In her closing remarks, Deputy Public Defender Melisa McNeill asked the jury to consider not only Cruz’s crime but also his background, describing Cruz as a “broken, brain-damaged, mentally ill young man” who was “poisoned” in the stomach through his. frequent use of drugs and alcohol by mothers during pregnancy.
McNeill addressed many of his arguments on Cruz’s childhood, recounting testimony from witnesses explaining that Cruz’s late biological mother, Brenda Woodward, smoked cigarettes, drugs and drank alcohol during her pregnancy.
During the trial, two defense witnesses testified that Cruz suffered severe brain damage due to his biological mother’s alcoholism.
McNeill urged jurors to consider Cruz’s history of mental illness in making their decision, and argued that Cruz should be given a life sentence rather than the death penalty. He urged jurors to choose “courage over comfort” and told them that their decision should not be based on anger, revenge or hatred.
“It’s the right thing to do,” McNeill said of the life sentence. “Sentencing Nikolas to life and being up here and asking you to do that is the right thing to do.”
Parkland is the worst shooting to go to trial
The killing is the deadliest mass shooting ever prosecuted in the United States, according to the Associated Press. Nine other people in the US have shot and killed at least 17 people who died during or after their suicide attacks or shootings with police. A suspect in the 2019 murder of 23 people at El Paso, Texas, Walmart is awaiting trial.
Distribution: Associated Press