After deliberating for a month in the trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, a jury in Florida agreed that the state had proven the aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt and that they were sufficient for the death penalty. However, Cruz, now 24, avoided the death penalty. Here’s what happened.
To decide on a recommendation, jurors were asked to weigh the aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances presented by the prosecution and defense during the trial.
Prosecutors cited seven aggravating factors, including whether the killings were particularly heinous, brutal, brutal, cold-blooded, calculated and premeditated. Other aggravating factors, prosecutors said, were that the defendant knowingly created a substantial risk of death to several people, and that he interfered with a legitimate government function — in this case, the operation of a school.
The defense, meanwhile, offered 41 possible mitigating circumstances, including that Cruz was exposed to alcohol, drugs and nicotine in utero; that he had a “neurodevelopmental disorder associated with prenatal alcoholism”; His foster mother did not follow the recommendations of medical, mental health, and educational providers.
Although the jury agreed that the aggravating factors had been proven and were sufficient to warrant a possible death sentence, the jurors’ verdict forms indicated that they could not reach a unanimous agreement that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating circumstances. Therefore, Cruz avoided the death penalty.
In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors argued that Cruz’s decision to fire was deliberate and carefully planned, while Cruz’s defense attorneys offered evidence of a lifetime of struggles at home and at school.
However, defense attorney Melissa McNeil said that Cruz “is a brain-damaged, broken, mentally ill individual through no fault of his own.” She pointed to the defense’s claim that Cruz’s mother had been using drugs and drinking alcohol while she was pregnant, poisoning his womb.