(PARKLAND, Fla.) — Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz has been spared the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison by a Florida jury for carrying out the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed 17 lives.
Cruz pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder in connection to the Feb. 14, 2018, killing of 14 students and three staff members at his former school. Among the victims were 15-year-old Peter Wang, an Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet who died while helping classmates escape, and 35-year-old Scott Beigel, a geography teacher who was shot dead while shepherding students to safety in his classroom.
This penalty phase trial was to determine if Cruz would be sentenced to death or life in prison for the massacre he committed at age 19. The jury’s decision must be unanimous for the death penalty.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Oct 13, 11:09 AM EDT
Judge reads verdict forms
Judge Elizabeth Scherer read the 17 documents, one for each slain victim, aloud to the court on Thursday morning as prosecutors, Nikolas Cruz and his attorneys, and the victims’ families looked on.
The jurors weighed aggravating factors and mitigating factors.
The murder of each victim needs to be found to be “cold, calculated and premeditated” to be eligible for the death penalty.
Oct 13, 9:54 AM EDT
Victims’ parents share emotional statements with jury
Victims’ parents took the stand during the trial to read emotional victim impact statements.
Fred Guttenberg, who lost 14-year-old daughter Jaime, said on the stand, “I couldn’t wait to teach her drive. … I couldn’t wait to see her graduate. I couldn’t wait to see her achieve her dream of getting into the University of Florida and rooming with her cousin and living her best life. I couldn’t wait to see her graduate and ultimately become a pediatric physical therapist, working her dream job.”
“Jaime imagined she’d be married by 25. I used to think every day about that moment and walking my daughter down the aisle. Becoming a grandparent to the two kids she already decided she was gonna have,” he said.
“What if Jaime wasn’t murdered? What would these moments end up being like?” Fred Guttenberg said. “Not a day goes by where the constant image of Jaime walking down the aisle is not still a part of my daily imagination. Along with that image of what should have been her future, our future together.”
Oct 13, 9:47 AM EDT
Defense says Cruz suffered lifelong developmental delays, prosecution says he planned ‘systematic massacre’
Cruz’s defense attorneys had urged the jury to sentence him to life in prison. The defense admitted Cruz was responsible for his actions and planned the school shooting, but argued Cruz suffered lifelong developmental delays that traced back to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
“Sentencing Nikolas to death will change absolutely nothing,” defense attorney Melisa McNeill said in closing arguments. “It will not bring back those 17 innocent victims that he viciously murdered.”
The prosecution, arguing for the death penalty, told jurors that Cruz researched previous mass shootings and planned a “systematic massacre.”
“Some of the remarks the defendant wrote on his YouTube were: ‘No mercy, no questions, double tap. I’m going to … murder children. … I’d love to see the families suffer,"” prosecutor Michael Satz said in closing arguments.
“He’s thinking ahead,” Satz said, by “not only looking to inflict pain” on the victims, but also “anticipating how that pain, fear and death … is gonna affect the families.”
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