A Florida jury unanimously determined on Thursday That Parkland rifle shooting game Nikolas Cruz should not be sentenced to death for his massacre of 17 people in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
The ruling, which came after just a day of deliberation, ended a painful trial that lasted nearly four months, leaving many heartbroken. Testimonies from 90 survivorsfootage of the carnage itself, and even tough argument between Judge Elizabeth Scherer and Cruz’s defense attorneys.
Having pleaded guilty in last October’s shooting, Cruz’s trial was only meant to determine whether he should be sentenced to death or receive a life sentence. Under Florida law, a jury must be unanimous in its decision to execute a sentence. If even a juror objected, 24-year-old Cruz would face a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
While the jury unanimously found that prosecutors demonstrated some aggravating factors — for example, the crime was predestined, “especially barbaric, brutal, or cruel,” and could impose the death penalty — they disagreed that those aggravating factors were more severe extenuating circumstances given by Cruz’s security team.
It was not disclosed how many of the 12 juries voted to spare Cruz’s life. Some jurors’ voices seemed to crack as they said “yes” to affirm their verdict.
As the verdicts were slowly read out to all 17 victims, some parents in the public gallery were stunned. Some shook their heads, patted their heads or whispered among themselves to try to understand the judges’ decision. The family of Chris Hixon, a 49-year-old wrestling coach killed in the massacre, walked out of the courtroom after his murder conviction was read.
Cruz, meanwhile, looked down at the table or glanced at his lawyers.
Prosecutors allege that Cruz meticulously planned the massacre in cold blood. In his final argument, prosecutor Mike Statz said Cruz was “hunting for his victims,” abandoning students on the second floor of the college’s freshman building while dismembering teenagers on the first floor. and the third floor, including the wounded.
“He went and finished them off,” Satz said. “He made sure they were dead.”
Satz argues that details like these are refuted the defense’s argument that Cruz had “brain damage” from birth and inability to plan shoots in advance. Instead, Satz said Cruz had carried out previous mass shootings, modified the rifle and purchased ammunition. Just before the shooting, he filmed a video in which he said he would kill “at least 20 people”.
This culminated, Satz said, when Cruz took an Uber to his alma mater in a JROTC polo game — to mingle — on February 14, 2018 and committed the second deadly school shooting. years in US history.
“He has the ability to plan, to plan well,” says Satz. “He completed his plan.”
Satz argued also made Cruz cursed. During a taping session with a therapist, Cruz said he specifically chose Valentine’s Day to shoot the scene because he didn’t like the holiday and “wanted to ruin it for everyone.”
After the shooting, Cruz quickly fled the school along with the fleeing students. He was identified and detained an hour later, but a therapist asked him why he stopped firing.
“I couldn’t find anyone to kill,” he said.
Cruz also told the therapist that he considered forgiving four people — three girls and a boy, who were suffering from a bullet wound in their leg. But all four gave him an “unpleasant look,” so he finished them off.
“His head exploded like a water balloon,” Cruz said of the boy, who gave him an “angry look” before he was shot dead.
Cruz’s trial was an emotional rollercoaster ride for the victims and even the jurors themselves, who are said to have twisted while video of the massacre played. It also revealed details about Cruz’s troubled childhood, which defense attorneys hope will convince at least one jury that Cruz should not receive the death penalty.
His lawyers say his brain was “Poisoning” at birth because his mother drank and abused drugs while pregnant, arguing that Cruz was “unsalvable through no fault of his own.”
Melisa McNeill, Cruz’s lead defense attorney, said Cruz’s mother, Brenda Woodard, was a prostitute and crack addict. Cruz’s father, who remains unknown, may have been a john or a rapist, she said.
McNeill’s mother’s substance abuse caused Cruz to develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and antisocial personality disorder at birth, McNeill said, which weakened him for to this day – despite being adopted as a child. Educators and psychologists also testified to the defense, saying that Cruz had outbursts of violence against other young students.
Another witness called by McNeill to support this argument was Cruz’s sister Danielle Woodard, who said their mother “didn’t care about my life or his.”
Woodard was one of more than 50 witnesses McNeill planned to call into the stands. But the defense abruptly halted their case on September 14, after 26 witnesses testified, canceling their plan at the last second and sending Scherer in viral fury.
McNeill’s announcement, as jurors and their 10 substitutes lined up outside the courtroom, actually “wasted a day in court,” Scherer said, as prosecutors weren’t prepared to begin. reject such short notice.
“There were 22 people marching into the court and waiting as if it were some kind of game. I have never experienced such a level of unprofessionalism in my career,” said Scherer.
McNeill hit back, saying that Scherer “insulted” her on file in front of a client. Scherer responded: “You insulted me during the trial. Frankly take off your headphones, argue with me, storm out, purposely be late if you don’t like my rules. So quite frankly, this is long overdue. So please take a seat. “
McNeill’s team motioned for Scherer to be removed from the trial for expressing “long-standing hatred” but Scherer refused because of “legal inadequacy”. CBS reports.
Of the 17 people killed, 14 were underage students. They are: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14 years old; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14 years old; Nicholas Dworet, 17 years old; Jaime Guttenberg, 14 years old; Luke Hoyer, 15 years old; Cara Loughran, 14 years old; Gina Montalto, 14 years old; Joaquin Oliver, 17 years old; Alaina Petty, 14 years old; Meadow Pollack, 18 years old; Helena Ramsay, 17 years old; Alex Schachter, 14 years old; Carmen Schentrup, 16 years old; and Peter Wang, 14 years old.
Also shot down by Cruz were Hixon, geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35, and assistant football coach Aaron Feis, 37.