A jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Thursday October 13, recommended that Nikolas Cruz be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing 17 people in the mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The unanimous verdict from the 12-member jury came on the second day of deliberations. Cruz had been facing the death penalty, but Thursday’s verdict means he will avoid that fate.
Cruz pleaded guilty a year ago to murdering 14 students and three staff members and wounding 17 others on February 14, 2018. Cruz said he chose Valentine’s Day to make it impossible for Stoneman Douglas students to celebrate the holiday ever again.
For each of the 17 counts, the jurors found the existence of all aggravating factors including that the murders were carried out in a “cold, calculated and premeditated” manner but that they did not outweigh mitigating circumstances established by the defense.
Cruz’s lawyers had claimed his birth mother’s excessive drinking and drug use during pregnancy left him with “fetal alcohol spectrum disorder” that ultimately led him to carry out the school shooting, one of the deadliest in U.S. history.
Inside the courtroom, Cruz sat silently with his head down and hands clasped for nearly an hour as Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer read the jury’s verdict, talking briefly with his attorney.
Numerous people in the gallery shook their heads in disgust. Several people walked out of the courtroom as the verdict was being read.
The decision capped a three-month sentencing trial that featured emotional testimony from family members of the victims, graphic video, and a tour of the crime scene at the school’s freshman building, which has been closed since the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre.
Cruz, 24, was 19 years old when he used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle to carry out the attack at his former school. He fled the scene and was taken into custody in nearby Coral Springs. He pleaded guilty last year.
According to the Associated Press, the massacre is the deadliest mass shooting that has ever gone to trial in the U.S. Nine other people in the U.S. who fatally shot at least 17 people died during or immediately after their attacks by suicide or police gunfire.
In the courtroom on Thursday, families reacted to the verdict.
Corey Hixon, the son of athletic director Chris Hixon who was killed in the mass slaying walked out of court hand in hand with a female companion as the verdicts were read out.
Ilan Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was shot eight times, said that the decision ‘sets a precedent’ for the next mass killing.
He said: ‘I’m disgusted with our legal system, I’m disgusted with those jurors. I’m disgusted with the system.’
Other relatives had their heads in their hands as they listened to the outcome of the three-month sentencing hearing.