The jury in the death penalty trial of Nikolas Cruz, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter in Parkland, Florida, returned a verdict this morning.
Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on all counts when jurors did not recommend unanimously that Cruz receive the death penalty.
The judge has set the official sentencing for November 1, allowing victims to express themselves before the formal sentence is entered.
In each case, the jurors found that prosecutors had proved many aggravating factors — that the crime was especially heinous and cruel, that it was committed in a cold and calculating manner, and that the gunman had created a great risk of death. But they did not unanimously find that the aggravating factors outweighed mitigating circumstances that the defense lawyers brought up at the sentencing trial.
- Defense attorneys said Cruz had neurodevelopmental disorders stemming from prenatal alcohol exposure, and presented evidence and witnesses claiming his birth mother had used drugs and drank alcohol while pregnant with him.
- “In a civilized, humane society, do we kill brain-damaged, mentally ill, broken people?” argued Melisa McNeill, the lead public defender.
Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty last October to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the February14, 2018, shooting that killed 14 students, 3 staff members, and injured 17 others.
The jurors reached their decision Thursday morning, shortly after being allowed to examine the weapon used by Cruz in the shooting, the deadliest at a U.S. high school in history.
The weapon used by Cruz, an AR-15 firearm, was etched with swastikas into both sides of the magazine.
As the multiple counts were read, people in the courtroom, including many parents of victims, appeared horrified and baffled by the jury’s decision not to apply the death penalty. None of the jurors looked in the direction of the victims’ families.
Cruz sat looking down at the defense table throughout the reading.