Nikolas Cruz, who murdered 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in a mass shooting that shocked the nation, will spend the rest of his life in prison after a jury rejected the death penalty on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the 12-person jury deliberated for nearly seven hours on whether to sentence Cruz to death for the Feb. 14, 2018 rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Thursday morning, they deliberated for less than an hour.
The life decisions appeared to take family members in court by surprise. Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was shot multiple times at close range, grimaced. Dr. Ilan Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed in the massacre, was seen quietly cursing as his wife, Lori, buried her face in her hand.
As the verdict was read, some of the jurors bowed their heads.
After prosecutors requested a full sentencing hearing to allow the relatives of the murdered victims to speak, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer did not immediately sentence Cruz. The hearing is scheduled for November 1.
In what was Florida’s deadliest school shooting, the former MSD student pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
The verdict came at the end of a nearly three-month trial in which relatives of murdered victims, survivors of the carnage, and the South Florida public were forced to relive the trauma of Florida’s deadliest school shooting.
Cruz’s was the deadliest mass shooting trial; most mass shooters are killed by police officers or commit suicide during their attacks.
The few mass shooters who have gone to trial have had varying outcomes. James Holmes, who killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, was sentenced to life in prison after a jury rejected the death penalty. Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, was sentenced to death by a federal jury.
Cruz’s rampage sparked a surge in student activism. Parkland survivors advocated for gun reform, and Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature eventually passed legislation restricting some firearm sales and establishing a “red flag” law that allows for the seizure of guns from mentally ill people.
The police response to the mass shooting was heavily criticized, as it had been in previous school shootings, such as the one earlier this year in Uvalde, Texas. The Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy assigned to the school, Scot Peterson, was charged criminally for failing to enter the freshman building and confront Cruz.
The shooting also shone a harsh light on how the education and mental-health systems dealt with Cruz’s troubling behavior at home and in school for years.
Cruz’s proclivity for rash outbursts and lashing out at classmates became a recurring theme during the long-awaited trial in Broward Circuit Court.
During the trial, which began on July 18, jurors heard chilling details about Cruz’s plans to become a notorious school shooter, including stockpiling ammunition and tactical gear before taking an Uber to the campus. Inside, he pulled out his AR-15-style rifle and began mowing down students in the hallways, shooting into classrooms, and returning to finish off wounded victims before fleeing among the fleeing students.
The Broward Public Defender’s Office attempted to persuade the jury that Cruz’s heinous killing spree was the culmination of a lifetime of poorly treated mental-health issues, claiming that brain damage was caused by his birth mother’s heavy drinking while he was in the womb.
On Wednesday afternoon, jurors requested to hear a reading of Paul Connor’s earlier cross-examination testimony, an expert who told them about Cruz’s fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The jury also requested to see the AR-15-style rifle, which had been rendered inoperable and was given to them on Thursday morning.
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