Nov 2 (Reuters) – Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 students and staff at a Florida high school with a semi-automatic weapon, was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday after hearing harrowing testimony from survivors and victims’ relatives.
Jurors voted last month to spare Cruz, 24, the death penalty, instead opting for life in prison without the possibility of parole in one of the worst mass murders in American history.
Cruz pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter in the February 14, 2018 attack last year, then faced a three-month sentencing hearing earlier this year.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherrer agreed to a plea request that relatives of Cruz’s victims contact the court first before sentencing. The sentencing process began Tuesday with victim impact statements.
Relatives of several victims rejected the jury’s decision, criticizing state law that allows all 12 jurors to be sentenced to death.
“How much worse can the crime be to warrant the death penalty?” Annika Dworet, mother of 17-year-old victim Nicholas Dworet, said.
Some relatives, arguing that Cruz has a constitutional right to legal representation, protested the judge and Cruz’s defense attorneys in vain on Tuesday about his criticism of them and the jury.
Relatives of many of the victims spoke directly to Cruz, who sat at a table with public defenders behind goggles and a COVID-19 mask, wearing a red prison jumpsuit and handcuffs. When the mother of one of the victims told her that it was disrespectful to keep it, he removed the mask
Ann Ramsay, mother of 17-year-old Helena Ramsay, told him he was “pure evil”. Inez Hickson has called her father-in-law a “domestic terrorist” for killing school athletic director Chris Hickson.
Cruz was 19 when the attack took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, about 30 miles (50 km) north of the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. He was expelled from the school.
Some of the survivors went on to organize youth-led movements in the United States, which has one of the highest rates of private gun ownership and frequent mass shootings.
Cruz spoke only briefly at the hearing, responding to questions from the judge about his inability to understand the proceedings.
Samantha Fuentes, who shot Cruz in the leg, asked Cruz if he remembered making eye contact as she lay bleeding in her room.
“You’re a hateful thug with an AR-15 and a goddamn set,” she said. “You’re nothing without your stupid gun.”
Victoria Gonzalez, whose boyfriend, 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, was among those killed, told Cruz they were in a room together.
“I’m sorry you never saw the love the world can give,” she told Cruise. “My justice is not in knowing if you live or die. My justice is in knowing that I have experienced the love that many people go their whole lives without experiencing.”
Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Jonathan Otis and Richard Pullin
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