Parkland school shooting jury spares gunman death penalty in 2018 massacre


HR King
May 29, 2001
A jury Thursday recommended Nikolas Cruz get life in prison for killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, sparing Cruz from a death sentence after his lawyers argued he had a troubled upbringing including allegations his biological mother abused drugs and alcohol while pregnant.

The sentence caps an emotional three-month trial in which victim relatives and survivors recounted the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre in painful detail. The 12-member jury deliberated for seven hours before reaching their decision in the deadliest U.S. mass shooting case to go to trial.
In each of the counts, jurors found that prosecutors had established aggravating factors including that the murders were especially cruel and heinous but that there were mitigating circumstances that ultimately outweighed those conditions.

As the verdicts were being read, many parents of the victims gently shook their heads. One juror clutched a tissue, wiping tears from her eyes. Cruz mostly stared down at a desk. Later, as victim family members left the courtroom, some relatives sobbed and collapsed into each others’ arms. One said to another, “He’s going to pay sooner or later.”
The gunman had already pleaded guilty to 17 counts of premeditated first-degree murder, and jurors had to decide on his sentence for each count. Cruz also wounded 17 other students and school staff members during his rampage in Parkland, Fla., a prosperous Fort Lauderdale suburb bordering the Everglades.
The shooting galvanized students in Parkland and elsewhere to speak out against gun violence, leading to the creation of the student-led “March for Our Lives” gun control movement. The shooting, which Cruz carried out when he was 19, also accelerated school safety and security measures nationwide and prompted debate over arming teachers in the classroom.

Although the trial was designed to help South Florida heal after Cruz’s heinous crimes shattered families and left Parkland students struggling with lifelong trauma, it also sparked a discussion over capital punishment as well as whether society should show any sympathy to killers who may be mentally deficient due to possible prenatal alcohol exposure.
The jury reached its verdict just 15 minutes after it began its second day of deliberations. On Wednesday evening, about seven hours into deliberations, the jury sent a message to Judge Elizabeth A. Scherer stating, “We would like to see the AR-15.”
The message prompted confusion over whether a weapon could be sent into the jury room. As court officials worked to clarify the matter, the judge dismissed the jury for day. On Thursday morning, the judge and the sheriff’s department agreed to send the weapon into the jury room. Within minutes, the jury announced it had reached a verdict.
His sister died in the Parkland massacre. He wants the gunman to live.
Cruz’s sentencing trial featured weeks of gruesome, emotional testimony that included video of how he wandered the hallways of the school with an AR-15 rifle, shooting some of his victims at point-blank range. Jurors also toured the wing of the school where the attack occurred, seeing classrooms that had largely been untouched in the years since the shooting.

During closing arguments on Tuesday, prosecutors accused Cruz of carefully planning his attack for years, and they said he carried it out with ruthless precision.
Broward County prosecutor Michael J. Satz said Cruz began researching other mass shootings — including the 1999 attack on Columbine High School and a 2007 shooting at a high school in Finland — several years before he carried out his own assault at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Cruz also purchased his rifle a year before the attack and spent several months gradually amassing ammunition.
Three days before he walked into the school, where he was a former student, Cruz made a video in which he foreshadowed his plans by vowing to become “the next school shooter of 2018.” Cruz selected Valentine’s Day to carry out his attack, and he moved throughout three floors of the school’s “1200 wing” shooting his victims — at times pressing his weapon directly onto their skin before he pulled the trigger, Satz added.

“The testimony revealed the unspeakable, horrific brutality and the relentless cruelty that the defendant performed," Katz told the jurors. “This plan was goal directed. It was calculated. It was purposeful, and it was a systematic massacre.”
But Cruz’s defense attorneys urged jurors to spare his life, describing him as a “brain damaged, broken mentally ill person through no fault of his own.”
Throughout the trial, Cruz’s defense attorneys alleged that Cruz suffered from “neurological disorders” related to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Defense witnesses, including medical experts and some Cruz family members, testified that his late biological mother, Brenda Woodard, was an alcoholic and abused drugs, including crack cocaine, while pregnant with him.

“He was literally poisoned in Brenda’s womb,” Melisa McNeill, Cruz’s lead defense attorney, told jurors. “He was doomed in the womb. And in a civilized society, do we kill brain damaged, mentally ill, broken people?”



HR King
May 29, 2001
To avoid the death penalty, the jury had to reach a unanimous decision. Speaking directly to jurors during her closing argument, McNeill told them they were making a “moral decision" that would require them to use their “heart." She pleaded with the jurors to take time in reaching their decision, saying they would have to live with the outcome for the rest of the lives.
“The state of Florida wants to put you in a state of hate, and anger, and vengeance, because if that is where you are at, you are more likely to send that young man to death,” said McNeill, who is a public defender. “And the law that we all live by tells jurors that we must not make decisions based on passion, emotion or anger.”

“Sentencing Nikolas to death will serve not purpose other than vengeance,” McNeill added.
Under Florida law for a capital crime, prosecutors had to prove that “aggravating factors” contributed to Cruz’s crimes.

The seven potential aggravating factors included whether the defendant had previously been convicted of a violent felony; that the defendant knowingly created great risk to a large number of people; and/or that a murder was especially “heinous, atrocious or cruel.”
Although Cruz did not previously have a violent criminal record, Satz said the murder or attempted murder of any of the 34 victims qualifies. Prosecutors also argued that Cruz committed his crime during a burglary because he was a former student who was not authorized to be on school grounds.

In all, Cruz fired 139 rounds during his 6-minute and 22-second rampage. The medical examiner testified some victims had defensive wounds, indicating they were shot at point blank range as they pleaded for their lives.
The jury was directed to consider 41 “mitigating circumstances” that should spare him from the death sentence even if they found there were aggravating factors at play. Broward County Circuit Judge Scherer said those included whether Cruz received proper mental health care while growing up, whether he suffered from attention deficit disorder and if he had been traumatized by witnessing the death of his adoptive parents.

The judge also asked jurors to consider whether Cruz “continues to try to educate himself despite incarceration” or that he remains “loved by people.”

During testimony, Cruz often sat with his head slumped down over his desk with his hands on his forehead. During the most graphic moments of the testimony, parents of the victims at times rushed out of the courtroom in tears. At one point in the trial, one of Cruz’s defense attorneys also cried in the courtroom as Fred Guttenberg described his final words to his 14-year-old daughter, Jamie, before she was killed in the shooting.
But not all relatives of the victims advocated that Cruz be given a death sentence, with even some members of the same family split over the question of whether he should die or spend the rest of his life in prison.
“I have been dreading this phase of the trial for the last four and a half years,” Robert Schentrupr, whose sister, Carmen, was killed in the massacre, wrote on Twitter as the trial got underway in July. “Because this is the part where people will tell me that retribution will bring ‘justice’ and ‘healing’ to me and my family. This is the part where pundits on TV will invoke the name of my sister to support the murder of another human being.”

“You cannot say that murder is heinous or unforgivable,” Robert added, “while advocating for the murder of someone else.”
“I love but disagree with my son,” replied his mother, April, quoting his tweet. “If police did their job that day, the shooter would’ve been killed. … Since they didn’t do what was needed then, let the court get it right this time.”
Florida’s first known state execution occurred in 1827 when a man was hanged for murder, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. But in 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was “cruel and unusual,” effectively imposing a nationwide moratorium.
The court reinstated the practice in 1976. Three years later, Florida became the first state to carry out an involuntarily execution. In the decades that followed, Florida has carried out a total of 99 executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
In Florida, all death penalty sentences are automatically eligible for an appeal.
During the trial, prosecutors asked jurors to show Cruz no sympathy for his actions, saying they were premeditated. Instead of suffering from mental illness, Satz argued Cruz’s actions fit into a broader pattern of “anti social behavior” and the prosecutor accused him of having a “manipulative personality.”
Satz said Cruz had an affinity for Nazi swastikas, including drawing them on both sides of the magazine of his firearm and on the boots he wore on the day of the shooting. Cruz also had expressed “hatred toward women” and had a history of making “hateful, racial comments,” Satz said.
“If you have F [racial slur] and swastika on your backpack, and you are walking around high school, who is the bully?” Satz asked.
But McNeill, Cruz’s attorney, said his story was far more complicated than that of a hateful teen bent on violence.
Besides alcohol and cocaine, McNeill said Cruz’s biological mother smoked cigarettes and worked as a prostitute during her pregnancy, damaging his brain. She then put Cruz up for adoption, and by age 3, a child psychiatrist told Cruz’s new family that he had severe issues.
His adoptive father died before Cruz reached kindergarten. His adoptive mother called authorities to their home more than 50 times. She never opted to have Cruz committed, his lawyers told jurors, because she would have lost his Social Security check.
Although Cruz’s adoptive family lived in spacious house in an upscale Fort Lauderdale suburb, McNeill told jurors that the size of his house should not mask the trauma he endured during his upbringing. Cruz often became so angry that he punched holes in the walls and killed animals, McNeill said.
“Living in a 4,500 square foot house in Parkland, it doesn’t mean you have a good life,” McNeill said. “And it doesn’t mean everything is okay and we know that because we have all of the records.”
But prosecutors countered that Cruz’s upbringing was not as chaotic as his defense attorneys alleged. One prosecution witnesses described his adoptive mother, who died in 2017, was a “caring mother who tried her best” to raise him, Satz said.
Prosecutors also pushed back against defense attorney’s assertions that his biological mother’s alleged alcohol and drug use during her pregnancy is to blame for his actions.
“Whether or not his mother smoked during pregnancy did not turn Nikolas Cruz into a mass murder,” Satz said during his closing argument. “The defendant had a plan, he discussed it, and he carried it out.”


HR All-American
Jan 23, 2018
You know, I get why a juror (and it only takes one) might not vote for the death penalty for a relatively young person - I mean, what a waste, and even some potential for redemption is pretty powerful thing not to throw away. But then I think to myself, life in prison without parole for a relatively young person - what a waste!

At least death has the virtue of satisfying the simply societal need for vengeance in situations like this.
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