The verdict ends a three-month emotional trial, with victims’ relatives and survivors detailing the harrowing details of the Valentine’s Day massacre. The 12-member jury deliberated for seven hours Before deciding to go to trial in America’s deadliest mass shooting.
On each count, jurors found prosecutors had identified aggravating factors, including that the murder was particularly cruel and heinous — suggesting the case met the threshold for death penalty eligibility. But they also argued that the most egregious elements of the attack did not outweigh the mitigating factors proposed by defense attorneys.
When the verdict was read, the parents of many victims shook their heads gently. A juror grabbed a tissue and wiped away tears from the corners of his eyes. Cruz spends most of his time staring down at a table. Later, as the victim’s family left the courtroom, some fell into each other’s arms sobbing. Some angrily blasted jurors, accusing them of being too receptive to the defense’s argument that Cruz was mentally ill.
How does the mitigating factor apply to “this shooter who they admitted to committing a horrific act – shooting some victims more than once … pressing the barrel of his weapon against my daughter’s chest?” asked Tony Montalto, 14 Year-old daughter Gina was killed at school. “Isn’t that more important than that poor little fellow?”
The gunman has pleaded guilty to 17 counts of premeditated first-degree murder, and jurors must decide his sentence on each count. Cruz also wounded 17 other students and school staff in the atrocities in Parkland, Florida, a thriving Fort Lauderdale suburb that borders the Everglades.
The shooting inspired students in Parkland and elsewhere to speak out against gun violence, sparking the student-led March for Our Lives gun control movement. Cruz’s shooting when he was 19 also accelerated school safety and security measures across the country and sparked a debate about arming teachers in the classroom.
While the trial aims to help South Florida heal after Cruz’s heinous crimes shattered families and left Parkland students struggling with lifelong trauma, it has also raised questions about the death penalty and whether society should take action against the possible consequences of psychological deficiencies. The mentally handicapped killer expressed any sympathy for discussing possible prenatal alcohol exposure.
His sister was killed in the Parkland massacre. He wants the gunman to survive.
Cruz’s sentencing trial included weeks of gruesome, emotional testimony, including video of how he prowled the school’s hallways with an AR-15 rifle, shooting some of his victims at close range. Jurors also toured the flank of the school where the attack took place, seeing classrooms that have remained largely untouched in the years since the shooting.
In closing arguments on Tuesday, prosecutors accused Cruz of orchestrating his attack over the years, which they said he carried out with ruthless precision.
Broward County Attorney Michael J. Satz said Cruz began researching other mass shootings — including the 1999 attack on Columbine High School and a 2007 attack on a Finnish high school Shootings – He carried out his own attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas a few years ago. Cruz also bought his rifle a year before the attack and spent months accumulating ammunition gradually.
Cruz, a former student three days before he walked into the school, foreshadowed his plans by making a video in which he vowed to be “the next school shooter in 2018.” Satz added that Cruz chose to attack on Valentine’s Day, shooting victims on three floors of the school’s “1200 Wing” — sometimes pressing his weapon directly to their skin before pulling the trigger. .
“The testimony revealed the unspeakable, horrific and relentless atrocities exhibited by the defendants,” Katz told jurors. “The plan was goal-directed. It was calculated. It was purposeful and it was Systemic slaughter.”
But Cruz’s defense attorney urged jurors to spare his life, calling him a “brain damaged, insane man through no fault of his own.”
Throughout the trial, Cruz’s defense attorneys claimed Cruz suffered from a “neurological disorder” related to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Defense witnesses, including medical experts and members of Cruz’s family, testified that his late biological mother, Brenda Woodard, drank alcohol and abused drugs, including cocaine, during her pregnancy.
“He was literally poisoned in Brenda’s womb,” Melissa McNeill, Cruz’s lead defense attorney, told jurors. “He was doomed in the womb. In a civilized society, we would kill the brainless, the mentally ill. The sick, the broken?”
To apply the death penalty, the jury must reach a unanimous decision. McNeill spoke directly to the jurors at the conclusion of the argument, imploring them to take their time to make a decision, saying they would have to accept the outcome for the rest of their lives.
“Florida wants you to be in a state of hatred and anger and revenge because if you’re in that state, you’re more likely to send that young man to death,” said McNeill, a member of the public. defender. “The laws we live by tell jurors that we must never make decisions based on passion, emotion or anger.”
McNeil added: “Sentencing Nicholas to death served no purpose other than revenge.”
Under Florida law on the death penalty, prosecutors must Prove that “aggravating factors” contributed to Cruz’s crime.
The seven potential aggravating factors include whether the defendant has been previously convicted of a violent felony; the defendant knowingly caused a substantial risk to a large number of people; and/or the murder was particularly “heinous, brutal or cruel.”
Although Cruz has no previous violent criminal record, Satz said the murder or attempted murder of any of the 34 victims would qualify. Prosecutors also argued that Cruz committed the crime in a burglary because he was a former student and was not authorized to enter campus. — Conditions for jury consent.
Cruz fired a total of 139 rounds in the 6 minutes and 22 seconds of the frenzy. The medical examiner testified that some of the victims had defensive wounds that indicated they were shot at close range while trying to survive.
The jury was instructed to consider 41 “mitigating circumstances” that should have saved him from the death penalty, even if they found aggravating factors were involved. Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth A. Scherer said that included whether Cruz received proper mental health care growing up, whether he suffered from attention deficit disorder and whether he was traumatized by witnessing the deaths of his adoptive parents.
The judge also asked jurors to consider whether Cruz “continues to strive to educate himself while incarcerated” or remains “loved by the people.”
During his testimony, Cruz often sat on the table with his head down and his hands on his forehead. In the most vivid moments of the testimony, the victims’ parents sometimes burst out of the courtroom crying. At one point in the trial, one of Cruz’s defense attorneys also cried in court as Fred Gutenberg recounted his last words to his 14-year-old daughter Jamie before he was killed in the shooting.
But not all of the victims’ relatives have advocated for Cruz to be sentenced to death, and even some members of the same family are divided over whether he should die or spend the rest of his life in prison.
“I’ve been terrified of this phase of the trial for the past four and a half years,” Robert Schentrup’s sister Carmen, who was killed in the massacre, tweeted that the trial Conducted 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 my sister’s name to support the murder of another person.”
“You can’t say murder is heinous or unforgivable,” Robert added, “while advocating for the murder of others.”
“I love my son but disagree with my son,” his mother replied in April, citing his tweet. “If the police had done their job that day, the shooter would have been killed. … Since they didn’t do what needed to be done then, let the court do it right this time.”
The Parkland trial was unusual from the start, as many of the mass killers were not taken into custody after the attack. In Parkland, however, the gunman fled the school mixed with other students fleeing his massacre and was arrested the same day.
In perhaps the most similar case, the gunman who killed a dozen people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 was later charged. A jury found the gunman guilty and later decided he should be sentenced to life in prison rather than the death penalty.
Much of the Florida case revolves around Cruz’s past. In addition to drinking and cocaine, Cruz’s biological mother also smoked and prostituted during pregnancy, which damaged his brain, McNeil said. She then put Cruz up for adoption, and at age 3, a child psychiatrist told Cruz’s new family that he had serious problems.
His adoptive father died before Cruz started kindergarten. His adoptive mother called authorities more than 50 times. Cruz’s attorney told jurors she never chose Cruz to commit because she would lose his Social Security check.
Although Cruz’s adoptive family lived in a spacious house in the upscale suburb of Fort Lauderdale, McNeil told jurors the size of his house should not obscure the trauma he endured. McNeil said Cruz was so angry so often that he punched holes in walls and killed animals.
“Living in a 4,500-square-foot house in Parkland doesn’t mean you’re doing well,” McNeill said. “It doesn’t mean all is well, we know that because we have all the records.”
But prosecutors countered that Cruz’s upbringing wasn’t as chaotic as defense attorneys say. A prosecution witness described his adoptive mother, who died in 2017, as a loving mother. Satz countered the defense’s claim that his biological mother’s alleged alcohol and drug use during her pregnancy was to blame.
“Whether or not his mother smoked during pregnancy didn’t turn Nicolas Cruz into a mass murderer,” Satz said. “The defendant had a plan, which he discussed and then executed.”
Prosecutors also argued that Cruz displayed a pattern of “antisocial behavior.” The gunman loved the swastikas, Satz said, and he painted them on the sides of his gun’s magazine and on the boots he wore the day he shot. Prosecutors said Cruz had expressed “hatred of women” and had a history of making “hateful, racial remarks.”
The jury reached its verdict just 15 minutes after deliberations began the next day. On Wednesday night, after about seven hours of deliberation, the jury sent a message to Scherer saying “we want to see AR-15.”
The news has sparked confusion over whether weapons can be sent to the jury room. As court officials worked to clarify the matter, the judge dismissed the jury that day. On Thursday morning, the judge and sheriff’s department agreed to send the weapon to the jury room. Within minutes, the jury announced its verdict.
Montalto, whose daughter was killed in the attack, said he felt the verdict actually ignored the victims of the massacre.
“Other sons, daughters, spouses and fathers, they are all victims here,” he said. “Our justice system should be used to punish this shooter to the fullest extent of the law, not as an act of retaliation, but to protect our nation’s schools and prevent others from attacking this nation’s future.”
Danielle Paquette contributed to this report.