Parkland school massacre gunman Nikolas Cruz will officially be sentenced to life in prison this week — but the families of those he killed in 2018 will have one more chance to face him in court.
“You stole him from us and you didn’t get the justice you deserved,” Debra Hixon, the widow of victim Christopher Hixon, told Cruz in an initial statement Tuesday morning, referring to a Florida jury’s decision last month not to recommend him. shall be sentenced to death.
“You’ve got a gift — a gift of grace and mercy,” she added, “that you don’t show to any of your victims.”
After a months-long trial to decide whether Cruz should be sentenced to death, a jury recommended that he be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the South Florida high school shooting that killed 17 people. He argued that he was disturbed and mentally ill.
Because jurors recommended life in prison — three voted against the death penalty, which must be unanimous in Florida — Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer must stick with her decision in sentencing Cruz, 24, who pleaded guilty to 17 murders and 17 of them last year. of attempted murder.
Follow Live Updates: Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz to be formally sentenced
Scherer is expected to issue a formal ruling Wednesday after victims’ loved ones, disappointed and angry at the jury’s sentencing recommendation, have had another chance since Tuesday to take the stand to testify about the impact of his actions.
Cruz’s trial comes a year after he pleaded guilty in connection with the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As gun violence continues on US campuses, it remains the deadliest mass shooting at an American high school; A teacher and a student were killed in a shooting in St. Louis last week.
Many of the Parkland families testified over several days this summer as prosecutors closed their case by describing the depth of their loss. But according to the father of 14-year-old victim Jaime Guttenberg, who was among the 14 students killed, those statements don’t include everything the families want to say because they need to be cross-examined by lawyers on both sides.
Fred Guttenberg told CNN last month after the jury’s decision. “At sentencing, we will say whatever we want, including discussing how we feel about the verdict now.”
A second round of victim impact testimony will take place in two days, and survivors of the shooting will also be eligible to speak, the Broward County State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed to CNN in a statement. It’s unclear how many of them or victims’ loved ones will take the stand, but no time limits have been imposed and some people may testify via video conference.
Victim impact statements are not required to be made available to lawyers in advance this week, the state attorney’s office said.
“I still have a lot to say. “I have a lot to say to the killer directly,” Guttenberg told CNN, “and now we can tell him what we feel about him.”
Because of his plea, Cruz skipped the guilt phase of his trial and instead proceeded directly to the penalty phase, in which prosecutors sought the death penalty while Cruz’s appointed public defenders lobbied for life without parole.
To make their decisions, jurors, prosecutors and defense attorneys argued for months about aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances — reasons why Cruz should or shouldn’t be executed.
Prosecutors cited seven aggravating factors, including that the killings were particularly heinous, cruel, brutal, cold, calculated and premeditated, with evidence that the gunman spent months meticulously planning the shooting and modifying his AR-15. Ammunition and Accumulating Ammunition.
Prosecutors presented Cruz’s online search history showing how he sought information about past mass shootings and comments he made on YouTube sharing his desire to commit a mass murder.
“What one writes,” lead prosecutor Michael Satz said during closing arguments, “and what one says is a window into one’s soul.”
But defense attorneys said their client should be sentenced to life instead, pointing to a life of struggles that began before he was born: His biological mother used drugs and alcohol while pregnant with Cruz, causing a mental and intellectual crisis. Deficits arising from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Despite his problems — teachers and school counselors concerned about his behavior and poor academic performance — Cruz never received adequate or appropriate intervention, defense attorneys argued. His adoptive mother, defense attorney Melissa McNeil, said it was because she “never really appreciated” what had happened to her.
“Sometimes,” McNeil said in his closing argument, “the people who deserve the least compassion, grace, and remorse deserve it.”
In rendering their decision, the jury unanimously agreed that the state had proven the aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt — and that they were sufficient to warrant a possible death sentence.
Ultimately, however, the aggravating factors were not unanimously agreed to outweigh the mitigating circumstances, and as a result, life imprisonment, not death, was recommended.
Three jurors voted against recommending the death penalty, and jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told CNN affiliate WFOR — he disagreed with the decision, saying, “I don’t like how it turned out, but … that’s how the jury system works.”
One of the jurors “was a resounding ‘no,’ and she couldn’t vote for death because she “didn’t believe, because he’s mentally ill, he deserves the death penalty,” Thomas said. Two more jurors joined her.
The woman “didn’t budge” from her stance, juror Melody Vannoy told CNN. “Whether we took 10 hours or five days,” “she didn’t feel like she was going to move either way.”
Vannoy voted for his own life, telling CNN, because he “felt the system failed him,” something Cruz had repeated throughout his life.
In any case, the outcome did little for the families who had expected Cruz to receive the death penalty as they watched frustration, anger and confusion as they wrestled with the jury’s decision within hours of the jury’s verdict being read.
“I hate those jurors,” said Ilan Alhadeff, the father of student victim Alyssa Alhadeff. “I am disgusted by the provision that you can allow 17 people to be killed and 17 people to be shot and injured and not get the death penalty. Why do we have the death penalty?
“This shooter does not deserve compassion,” Tony Montalto, the father of slain 14-year-old Gina Montalto, said outside the courtroom after the jury’s findings were read.
“Did he show compassion for Gina when he chose to pull the trigger when he put the weapon to her chest, or any of the other three times he shot her? Was that compassionate?”
Not all relatives of the victims felt that way. Before the trial ended, Robert Schentrup, the brother of victim Carmen Schentrup, told CNN that he was against the death penalty — in Cruz’s case and in all others.
“Logically,” he said, “it’s a horrible, heinous, horrible, horrible thing to kill somebody, and we’re going to do it to somebody to prove it. And more.”