Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz sentenced to life in prison without parole for 2018 massacre
The gunman who carried out the Parkland school shooting has been officially sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after a jury last month did not unanimously recommend the death penaltydisappointing and angering many of the families of the 17 people he killed.
Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer imposed the statutory sentence on Wednesday, ordering Nikolas Cruz, 24, to serve life without the possibility of parole on each of the 17 counts of murder to which he pleaded guilty, with the sentences to run consecutively.
In addition, Scherer was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 20 years to be served on 14 of the 17 counts of attempted murder, and life without parole on the remaining three counts of attempted murder. The judge ruled that all counts be charged consecutively.
The end of the months-long trial to decide Cruz’s fate followed two days of victim impact testimony in which families of those killed and survivors of the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida confronted the gunman, telling the court what he took from them and expressing their anger will not be executed.
“It is heartbreaking that any person who heard and saw all this did not give this killer the worst possible sentence,” Annika Dworet, the mother of 17-year-old victim Nicholas Dworet said Wednesday. “As we all know, the worst penalty in the state of Florida is the death penalty. How bad would the crime have to be to warrant the death penalty?”
“You robbed Alyssa (of) her life’s memories,” Lori Alhadeff, mother of 14-year-old victim Alyssa Alhadeff, told the gunman. “Alyssa will never graduate high school. Alyssa will never go to college and Alyssa will never play soccer. She will never get married and she will never have a baby.”
“I hope you’re miserable for the rest of your pathetic lives,” Lori Alhadef added. “I hope for you that you are seared and traumatized by the pain of what you did to my family every day.”
Cruz pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in connection with the shooting, which, despite the continuation of America’s epidemic of gun violenceremains the deadliest high school mass shooting in the US.
The state sought the death penalty, so Cruz’s trial moved to the sentencing phase, in which the jury was tasked with hearing prosecutors and defense attorneys outline why they believed he should or should not have died.
The prosecution argued in part that the shooting was particularly heinous, brutal or cruel and that it was premeditated and calculated. The defense is asking for a life sentencethey pointed to shooter’s mental or intellectual deficits that they said resulted from prenatal alcohol exposure.
Three jurors were persuaded to vote for lifesparing Cruz the death penalty, which in Florida a jury must unanimously recommend. Scherer must follow the jury’s recommendation of life without parole, according to state law.
During his testimony this week, the attacker remained emotionless, wearing a red prison jumpsuit and glasses. He also wore a medical mask, although he took it off Wednesday after Jennifer Guttenberg, the mother of 14-year-old victim Jaime, told him it was disrespectful.
“You shouldn’t be sitting there with a mask on your face. It’s disrespectful to hide your facial expressions behind a mask when we as families are sitting here talking to you,” she said during her testimony. “Slumped in your seat. Hunched over trying to look innocent, when you’re not, because you admitted what you did. And everyone knows what you did.”
The attacker then removed his mask, but his facial expression did not change.
Of those killed, 14 were students and three were staff members who died running into danger or trying to help students get to safety.
The students killed were: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Jaime Gutenberg, 14; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14 years old; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 15.
Geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35; wrestling coach Chris Hixon, 49; and assistant football coach Aaron Feis, 37, were also killed.
The life sentence was less than what many of those who wounded Cruz and the families of those he killed wanted. Some said in testimony this week that it showed the jury placed more weight on his life than the lives of the 17 dead.
“It’s really, really sad. I miss my little boy,” Max Schachter, Alex Schachter’s father, told CNN Wednesday before the sentencing. “It’s not right that the worst high school shooter in U.S. history basically gets what he wants,” he said, referring to Cruz’s life sentence.
Samantha Fuentes, one of the shooting survivors, confronted Cruz on Wednesday, admitting she was “angry” about his sentence. But unlike him, she said, “I will never take out my anger, pain and suffering on others because I am stronger than you. This whole community behind me is stronger than you.”
Fuentes reminded Cruz that they walked the same halls and were even in JROTC together.
“We were still children then,” she said. “I was just a kid when I saw you standing at the window, peering into my Holocaust studies class, holding your AR-15 that, ironically, had swastikas scratched on it. I was still a child after watching you kill two of my friends. I was still a child when you shot me with your gun.”
Another student, Victoria Gonzalez, Joaquin Oliver’s girlfriend, similarly reminded the attacker that they shared a class together, recalling how the teacher would go around the room each day asking students for homework answers to make sure each student had done that. Every day, she said, she hoped Cruz had his own — for his sake.
“I was quietly rooting for you in my desk. You had no idea who I was and I was rooting for you,” Gonzalez said. “Because I felt that you needed someone or that you needed something. And I could feel it.”
But Joaquin’s killing made it difficult for Gonzalez to make friends, to bond with others, she said, and to let others love her the way he did.
“I wish you had met Joaquin,” she said. “Because he would be your friend. He would give you a hand.”
Michael Shulman, Scott Beigel’s father, told the court about the geography teacher’s altruistic nature and the impact he had on his students and athletes. The gunman stole not only the son, but also the teacher, he said.
“You are a monster without a spine and a soul. My son Scott was a human being – and still is – something you will never be and you never were,” Shulman said.
Beigel’s mother, Linda Beigel Schulman, also addressed the court and the shooter, telling him, “I have never said your name and I never will.
She ended her statement by holding up a picture of the deceased victims. “These are the names and faces that I want you to remember,” she said, including her son Scott, “that I will honor, cherish and love every day for the rest of my life.”
Watch the moment a referee fired a member of the Parkland shooter’s defense team
Some of the victim impact testimony this week was directed not only at Cruz but also at the public defenders who represented him.
That prompted objections from the defense, including Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes, who on Tuesday asked Scherer to direct the state to encourage witnesses not to make statements to or about attorneys. They were just doing their job because the law gives all criminal defendants the right to legal representation, he said.
That further angered some members of the Parkland family, including Fred Gutenberg, Jaime’s father, who on Wednesday called on Weekes to resign.
“I understand you have a job to do, defend the indefensible, defend a mass murderer of 17 people. I understand that it was difficult,” he told the defense. “And you did your job as you were asked to do. But I’m not sure anywhere along the way there was a requirement to give up your humanity and your decency. It was your choice.”
Much is still unclear what Cruz’s future will look like. He will likely be held in the Broward County Detention Center before being turned over to the Florida Department of Corrections and taken to one of several reception centers around the state.
There, Cruz will spend weeks undergoing physical and psychological examinations, Florida State Attorney Janet Johnson told CNN. “They’re going to look at his record, they’re going to look at the level of crime he’s been convicted of, which is obviously the highest, and they’re going to recommend a facility somewhere in the state,” she said.
Which facility is determined by factors including the severity of the offense, the length of the sentence and the inmate’s prior criminal record, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website. They are usually convicted of the most serious crimes or placed in the most secure institutions with the longest sentences, the website says.
Because Cruz is a high-risk offender, he is likely to be placed in prison with other high-profile or “very dangerous criminals,” Johnson said.
“But he wouldn’t be isolated, which of course is a real threat to him because there may be people who want to dole out ‘prison justice’ who don’t think the sentence he got in court is enough,” Johnson added.
The Department of Corrections did not respond to CNN’s question about what type of mental health treatment Cruz may receive while in prison. During the trial, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office released more than 30 pages of Cruz’s writings and drawings that reveal disturbing thoughts he had while in custody, focusing on guns, blood and death.
On one page, Cruz wrote that he wanted to be sentenced to death, while on another he told his family that he was sad and hoped to die of a heart attack by taking painkillers and extreme eating.
For the victims and their families, the end of the gunman’s trial simply marks the end of a chapter in a lifelong journey of grief.
“I want to put this behind me,” Max Schachter told CNN on Wednesday. “I’m going to court later today. He will be sentenced to life in prison and I will never think about this killer again.”
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