Florida jury spares Parkland school gunman’s death penalty

Oct 13 (Reuters) – A Florida jury on Thursday decided to spare Nikolas Cruz the death penalty for the 2018 killing of 17 people at a Parkland high school, instead seeking life in prison without parole . .

Families of some victims shook their heads in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom where a jury rejected prosecutors’ plea for Cruz to be sentenced to death in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. Cruz, 24, showed little emotion as he sat at the defense bar as the verdict was read.

Cruz pleaded guilty last year to intentional murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Fort Lauderdale. Cruz, 19, had been expelled from the school at the time of the shooting, killing 14 students and three staff with a semi-automatic rifle.

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The jury found that mitigating factors, such as illnesses described by witnesses as a result of their biological mother’s drug abuse during pregnancy, outweighed aggravating factors. Prosecutors argue Cruz’s crimes were premeditated, heinous and cruel, one of the criteria under Florida law to determine whether the death penalty should be imposed.

Under Florida law, a jury must unanimously recommend that a judge sentence a defendant to execution and ask for a conclusion that aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors in at least one criminal charge.

A juror insisted Cruz would not be sentenced to death because of his mental illness, juror president Benjamin Thomas told Florida TV.

“There was one person who was adamantly against it, and she couldn’t do it,” Thomas said in an interview posted on the website of CBS Miami subsidiary WFOR-TV, adding that two other jurors “eventually voted the same way.”

Some family members expressed disappointment that jurors did not ask for the death penalty.

“I am disgusted with our legal system. I am disgusted with those jurors,” said Ilan Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa Alhadeff was killed. “…What are we doing with the death penalty? What is its purpose?”

Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was killed, added: “It’s very unreal that no one is paying attention to the facts of this case, that no one remembers who the victims were and what they looked like.” You know, because I see my beautiful daughter’s face at home and in my dreams, and I miss her so much.”

The three-month sentence phase of the trial included tragic testimonies from survivors as well as cellphone video taken by students that day showing them crying for help or whispering while in hiding.

Defense witnesses included Cruz’s half-sister, who testified that their mother drank and used drugs, including cocaine, while she was pregnant with Cruz. When Cruz pleaded guilty, he apologized for the killing and said he wanted to dedicate himself to helping others.

November 1st sentence

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer set a formal sentencing date for Nov. 1.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed his disappointment at the verdict, speaking at a news conference in Cape Coral about the state’s hurricane recovery efforts.

“It’s not what we want,” DeSantis said.

The United States has experienced multiple school shootings in recent decades, including one in May in Uwald, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers.

Some teens who survived the Parkland atrocities formed March for Our Lives, a group calling for gun control legislation, such as a ban on assault-style rifles. President Joe Biden signed into law in June the first major federal gun reform legislation in 30 years, what he called a rare bipartisan achievement, even though it did not include an assault weapons ban.

Debbi Hixon’s husband Chris Hixon, the school’s athletic director who was killed after a confrontation with Cruz during the massacre, said Thursday, “It does and should say something to society – we have to look at who we allow to own guns, How we address mental health in our community and where we give grace when necessary.”

Anne Ramsay’s daughter, Helena Ramsay, was killed, adding: “There is no excuse for this country to have weapons of war on the streets. If you don’t understand that, then there is something wrong with this country.”

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Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Miami and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Donna Bryson and Rich McKay; Editing by Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis

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