[Breaking news update, published at 4:40 p.m. ET]
The gunman who carried out the Parkland school shooting on Wednesday was formally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after a jury last month recommended life in prison over the death penalty, angering many of the families of the 17 people he killed. .
[Original story, published at 3:07 p.m. ET]
A gunman who killed 17 people at a South Florida high school is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Wednesday, ending a grueling, months-long trial in which jurors declined to recommend the death penalty.
Nikolas Cruz, 24, will first face more of his victims in court before Broward County District Judge Elizabeth Scherer formally imposes the sentence recommended last month, an outcome that disappointed and angered many relatives of his victims. this week.
“It’s sad how anyone who heard and saw all of this didn’t give this killer the worst possible punishment,” Annika Dvoret, the mother of 17-year-old victim Nicholas Dvoret, said Wednesday. “As we all know, the worst punishment in the state of Florida is the death penalty. How much worse does a crime have to be to warrant the death penalty?”
Wednesday marked the second day of victim impact testimony, following a round earlier Tuesday in which many relatives of victims and some survivors of the shooting confronted Cruz, who pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Despite America’s ongoing gun violence epidemic, it remains the deadliest mass shooting at a US high school.
LIVE UPDATES. Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz will be formally sentenced
Others who testified Wednesday spoke of the agony of the shootings, like Lori Alhadeff, who said she went to the medical examiner’s office to see the body of her 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, and touch the spots where the gunman shot her. hoping to bring him back to life.
“You robbed Alyssa of a lifetime of memories,” he told the gunman. “Alyssa will never graduate from high school. Alyssa will never go to college and Alyssa will never play soccer. He will never marry and never have children.’
“My hope for you is that you’re miserable for the rest of your miserable life,” Lori Alhadeff added. “My hope for you is that the pain of what you did to my family burns and hurts you every day.”
The state sought the death penalty, and so Cruz’s trial moved to the sentencing phase, where jurors were told to hear prosecutors and defense attorneys argue whether or not he should be put to death.
The prosecution argued that the shooting was, in part, particularly heinous, atrocious or cruel and premeditated and calculated. The defense, which sought a life sentence, pointed to the shooter’s mental or intellectual disabilities, which they said stemmed from prenatal alcohol exposure.
Three jurors were persuaded to vote for life, sparing Cruz the death penalty, which juries in Florida must recommend unanimously. Sherer must follow the jury’s recommendation of life without parole under state law.
The gunman remained motionless throughout his testimony this week, wearing a red prison jumpsuit and glasses. He also wore a medical mask, although he took it off on Wednesday after Jennifer Guttenberg, the mother of 14-year-old victim Jaime, told him it was disrespectful.
“You shouldn’t be sitting there with a mask on your face. It is disrespectful to hide your expressions under a mask when we as a family are sitting here and talking to you,” he said during his testimony. “Go down to your seat. Bent over trying to make you look innocent when you’re not because you confessed to what you did. And everyone knows what you’ve done.”
The gunman then removed his mask, but his facial expression did not change.
Fourteen of those killed were students, and three were staff members who died running toward danger or trying to help students escape.
The students killed are: Alisa Alhadef, 14; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14; Nicholas Dvoret, 17; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Luke Hoyer, 15; Kara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alena Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 15.
Geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35; wrestling coach Chris Hickson, 49; 37-year-old assistant football coach Aaron Feis also died.
A life sentence was not what many of Cruz’s victims and the families of his victims wanted. Some said in testimony this week it showed jurors valued his life more than the lives of the 17 others who died.
“It’s really, really sad. I miss my little boy,” Alex Schachter’s father, Max Schachter, told CNN Wednesday before the sentencing. “It’s not true that the worst high school shooter in U.S. history basically gets what he wants,” he said, referring to Cruz’s life sentence.
Shooting survivor Samantha Fuentes confronted Cruz on Wednesday, admitting she was “furious” about his verdict. But unlike him, he said. “I will never take out my anger, pain and suffering on others because I am stronger than you. This whole community that stands behind me is stronger than you.”
Fuentes reminded Cruz that they walked the same hallways and were even in JROTC together.
“We were just kids then,” he said. “I was a kid when I saw you standing in the window looking into my Holocaust studies class, holding your AR-15 with swastikas ironically scrawled in it. I was still a child after I saw you kill two of my friends. I was still a child when you shot me with your gun.’
Another student, Victoria Gonzalez, a friend of Joaquin Oliver, similarly reminded the gunman that they also went to class together, recalling how the teacher would walk around the room every day asking students for homework answers to make sure each student was done; Every day, she said, she hoped that Cruz had something for her.
“I was silently rooting for you in my desk. You had no idea who I was and I was rooting for you,” Gonzalez said. “Because I felt like you needed someone or something. And I could feel it.’
But Joaquin’s killing made it difficult for Gonzalez to make friends, get close to others, she said, and let others love her the way she did.
“I’d like you to meet Joaquin,” he said. “Because he would be your friend. He would get you.”
Much remains unclear about what Cruz’s future will look like. He will likely be held in the Broward County Jail before being turned over to the Florida Department of Corrections and transferred to one of several reception centers in the state.
There, Cruz will spend weeks undergoing physical and mental examinations, Florida criminal defense attorney Janet Johnson told CNN. “They’re going to look at his record, they’re going to look at the level of crime he’s been convicted of, which is obviously the highest, and they’re going to recommend a facility somewhere in the state,” he said.
Which facility is determined by factors including the seriousness of the crime, the length of the sentence and the inmate’s prior criminal record, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website. As a rule, those convicted of the most serious crimes or serving the longest sentences are placed in the most secure facilities, the website said.
Because Cruz is a high-risk offender, he will likely end up in prison with other high-profile or “very dangerous criminals,” Johnson said.
“But he wouldn’t be in solitary confinement, which of course is a real threat to him because there may be people who want to do ‘prison justice’ who don’t think the punishment he got in court is enough,” Johnson said. has added.
The Department of Corrections did not respond to CNN’s question about what kind of mental health treatment Cruz may receive while in prison. During the trial, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office released more than 30 pages of writings and pictures of Cruz that revealed the disturbing thoughts he had while in custody, focusing on guns, blood and death.
On one page, Cruz wrote that he wanted the death penalty, while on another, he told his family he was sad and hoped he would die of a heart attack by taking painkillers and extreme eating.
For the victims and their families, the end of the gunman’s trial is simply the closing of one chapter in a lifelong journey of grief.
“I want to put this behind me,” Max Schachter told CNN on Wednesday. “I will go to court later today. He will be sentenced for life and I will never think about this murderer again.”