The gunman who killed 17 people in 2018 at a South Florida high school is expected to be sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole, bringing to a close a grueling, months-long trial in which a the jury declined to recommend a death sentence.
Nikolas Cruz, 24, is first facing more of his victims in court before Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer formally handed down the recommended sentence last month, an outcome that disappointed and angered many relatives of those he killed. killed – a sentiment strongly expressed in victim impact testimony. this week.
“It’s heartbreaking how every person who heard and saw all of this didn’t 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 much worse would the crime have to be to warrant the death penalty?”
Wednesday marked the second day of victim impact testimony, following an earlier round on Tuesday, when many of the victims’ relatives and some of the shooting survivors confronted Cruz, who pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the massacre. at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Despite the ongoing epidemic of American gun violence, it remains the deadliest mass shooting at a US high school.
LIVE UPDATE: Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz to be formally sentenced
Others who testified Wednesday spoke of the anguish the shooting has caused them, like Lori Alhadeff, who said she went to the doctor’s office to see the body of her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa and touch the spots where the gunman had had shot. hoping to bring him back to life.
“You robbed Alyssa (of) a lifetime of memories,” she told the gunman. “Alyssa will never graduate from high school. Alyssa will never go to college and Alyssa will never play soccer. She will never marry and never have a child.”
“My hope for you is that you are miserable for the rest of your pathetic life,” Lori Alhadeff added. “My hope for you is that the pain of what you did to my family burns and traumatizes me every day.”
The state sought the death penalty, and so Cruz’s trial moved into the penalty phase, in which a jury was tasked with hearing prosecutors and defense attorneys argue why they thought he should or should not be put to death.
The prosecution argued, in part, the shooting was particularly heinous, atrocious or cruel and was premeditated and calculated. The defense, seeking a life sentence, pointed to the attacker’s mental or intellectual deficiencies that they said stemmed from prenatal exposure to alcohol.
Three jurors were persuaded to vote for life, sparing Cruz a death sentence, which in Florida a jury must unanimously recommend. Scherer must follow the jury’s recommendation of life without parole, according to state law.
Throughout his testimony this week, the gunman remained emotionless, wearing a red prison jumpsuit and glasses. He also wore a medical mask, although he removed it on Wednesday after Jennifer Guttenberg, the mother of 14-year-old victim Jaime, told him it was disrespectful.
“You should not sit with a mask on your face. It is disrespectful to hide your expressions under your mask when we as a family are sitting here talking to you,” she said during her testimony. “Sat in your seat. Crouched down trying to look innocent, when you’re not, because you’ve admitted what you’ve done. And everyone knows what you’ve done.”
The gunman 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 towards danger or trying to help students escape.
The students killed were: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 15 years old.
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 Cruz’s injured and the families of those he killed had asked for, with some saying in testimony this week that it showed the jury placed more weight on his life than that of others. 17 dead.
“It’s really, really sad. I miss my little boy,” Max Schachter, the father of 14-year-old victim Alex Schachter, told CNN Wednesday before the sentencing. “It’s not fair 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 hallways and were even in JROTC together.
“We were still kids at the time,” she said. “I was still a kid when I saw you standing at the window, looking into my Holocaust studies class, holding your AR-15 that had the swastika, ironically, scratched into it. I was still a child after I saw 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 gunman that they too had shared a class together, recalling how the teacher would go around the room every day asking students for an answer to their homework. their homework to make sure each student had done it. Every day, she said, she hoped Cruz would have his — for his sake.
“I was silently rooting for you at my desk. You had no idea who I was and I was rooting for you,” Gonzalez said. “Because I felt like you needed someone or you needed something. And I could feel that.”
But Joaquin’s killing has made it difficult for Gonzalez to make friends, get close to others, she said, and let others love him the way he does.
“I wish you could meet Joaquin,” she said. “Because he would have been your friend. He would have extended a hand to you.”
Much is still unclear about what Cruz’s future will look like. He will likely be held in Broward County custody before being turned over to the Florida Department of Corrections and sent to one of several holding centers across the state.
There, Cruz will spend weeks undergoing physical and mental examinations, Florida criminal defense 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 seriousness of the offense, the length of the sentence and the inmate’s prior criminal record, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website. Typically, those convicted of the most serious crimes or with the longest sentences are placed in the most secure facilities, the website says.
Because Cruz is a high-risk offender, he will likely be placed in a prison with other high-profile or “very dangerous criminals,” Johnson said.
“But he would not be isolated, which of course is a real threat to him because there may be people who want to do ‘justice in prison’ who didn’t think the sentence he got in court was 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 writings and drawings by Cruz, which revealed disturbing thoughts he had while in custody, focusing on guns, blood and death.
On one page, Cruz wrote that he wanted to go to death row, while on another he told his family he was sad and hoped to die of a heart attack by taking painkillers and eating extremes.
As for the victims and their families, the end of the gunman’s trial merely marks the closing 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 murderer again.”