A Florida judge officially sentenced Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Wednesday after statements from victims and victims’ families. Cruz was responsible for the 2018 campus massacre that killed14 students and three staff members.
Following the jury’s recommendation, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer sentenced the 24-year-old to life in prison rather than the death penalty. Cruz was leaning toward receiving the death penalty while the jury deliberated last month, but Florida law requires that if there is a tie, Cruz will automatically receive a life without parole sentence.
The defense had requested life in prison, while the prosecution had requested the death sentence. Family relatives of the victims, who were obviously upset by the conviction, were clearly shaken by the jury’s decision on October 13.
Prior to passing judgment on Cruz for a total of 34 counts of murder or attempted murder on Wednesday, Scherer expressed her admiration for the fortitude of the victims and their loved ones.
“I appreciate having the opportunity to learn more about each and every one of your loved ones, family members. They won’t be forgotten, I can assure you of that “said Scherer. “I would take the anguish away from you or bear it for you for just five minutes so you could breathe.”
During the three-month penalty trial, the defense argued that Cruz is mentally ill and his condition led him to the 2018 Valentine’s Day rampage in which he wielded a semi-automatic rifle at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Cruz admitted to 17 charges of murder in October 2021.
The life sentence for Cruz leaves Ilan Alhadeff, the father of Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, who was slain in the shooting, with “little satisfaction”, he said during his victim impact statement on Wednesday. Alhadeff claimed that he deserved to die.
“Let me show how angry and frustrated I am with the judicial system. After 4 ½ grueling years, a failed judicial system did not hand down a death sentence to the murderer of my daughter and 16 others,” he said. “Do I see this as accountability? Absolutely not. Do we now have closure? Let me be clear, absolutely not. What I see is that the system values this animal’s life over the 17 now dead. Worse, we sent a message to the next killer out there that the death penalty would not be applied to mass killing. This is wrong and needs to be fixed immediately.”
Sam Fuentes was shot in the leg and struck in the face with shrapnel during the massacre. She said Wednesday in court she watched Cruz kill two of her friends.
“You shot me in the leg. If you looked me in the face, like I’m looking at you right now, you would see the scars on it from the hot shrapnel that was lodged into it. Do you remember after you sprayed my classroom with bullets, standing in the door, peering in to see the work you’ve done? Do you remember my little battered, bloody face looking back at you? I could have sworn we locked eyes,” she said.
“I’ll have to live with the aftermath of this for the rest of my life. I’ll always have PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations.”
Fuentes continued: “You gave me and many others a lifetime of trauma, pain and suffering, long after you committed this crime and for what? You’re nobody now. You’re not special. You have no power anymore. You’ll step away from this and you’ll have the most unremarkable, pathetic existence, one that I only pray that you suffer.”
Cruz wore a mask for the first part of the hearing, until Jennifer Guttenberg, the mother of victim Jaime Guttenberg, admonished the shooter during her victim impact statement.
“You shouldn’t be sitting there with a mask on your face. It’s disrespectful to be hiding your expressions under your mask when we as the families are sitting here talking to you,” she told him.
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