Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz formally sentenced to life without chance of parole

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A judge sentenced the gunman who killed 17 people and injured 17 others in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, to life in prison without parole on Wednesday.

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The sentence follows a recommendation last month from a jury that determined Nikolas Cruz should not be sentenced to death. At least one juror determined that unspecified mitigating factors outweighed those that would have warranted a death sentence.

Broward County judge sentences Nikolas Cruz

Update 4:38 p.m. EDT Nov. 2: Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer formally imposed a life sentence without parole on Nikolas Cruz.

Scherer read all 17 murder indictments and imposed the mandatory life sentence for each count and complimented the families of the victims for their strength during the trial and sentencing phrase.

“They will not be forgotten,” Scherer said before imposing the sentence. “The way that you have grieved so gracefully is something I have never seen. ... When people remember that school, they are going to remember the strength of that community.

“I know you are going to be OK, because you have each other.”

The jury in Cruz’s three-month penalty trial voted 9-3 on Oct. 13 to sentence him to death, but Florida law requires a unanimous decision for the death penalty to be imposed.

Cruz acknowledged under questioning by the judge before sentencing that he is on medication but could understand what was going on, The Associated Press reported.

Earlier, family members of the victims addressed the court.

“This is a club no one wants to be in,” Jennifer Guttenberg, the mother of Jaime Guttenberg said. “My daughter is Jaime Guttenberg. She is forever 14. And she is amazing still.”

“You were a hateful bigot with an AR-15 and a God-complex,” former classmate Samantha Fuentes, a survivor of the shooting. “You still are, minus the gun. ... The people you killed will have a legacy much greater than yours ... My name is Sam Fuentes. You will not forget me. You will not forget us until the last day you breathe.”

Victoria Gonzalez, the girlfriend of slain victim Joaquin Oliver, showed up in court wearing one of Oliver’s T-shirts, which read, in Spanish, “You with bullets, I with balls,” an anti-violence slogan promoting athletics, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“Joaquin loved me, for all of my flaws,” she said. “Nobody else is allowed to love me like that.” She said she no longer feels safe, thanks to Cruz.

Oliver’s father, Manuel Oliver, told Cruz that “you’re going to die before me.”

“I was told not to use profanity here,” he said. “I won’t. I’ll try.”

He still cursed, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

Bob D’Angelo, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Original report: Relatives of those injured and killed in the Feb. 14, 2018, Parkland shooting shared grief and anger Tuesday while reading victim impact statements in court. Most also questioned the jury’s decision not to sentence Cruz to death.

Patricia Oliver, the mother of slain Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Joaquin Oliver, asked in court, “If this, the worst mass shooting to go to trial, does not deserve the death penalty, what does?”

Cruz shot and injured 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver in a hallway before finding him wounded in front of a bathroom door. He shot Joaquin Oliver again, killing him. In total, prosecutors said Cruz shot Joaquin Oliver four times.

“The legal system should protect and impart justice, justice, justice,” Patricia Oliver said, accusing defense attorneys of “shameful, despicable behavior,” according to The Associated Press.

Debra Hixon, the wife of slain athletic director Christopher Hixon, told Cruz that he was given “a gift of grace and mercy — something you did not show to any of your victims.”

“I wish nothing for you today,” she said, according to The Palm Beach Post. “After today, I don’t care what happens to you.”

David Robinovitz, the grandfather of slain 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, said that he hoped Cruz — whom he addressed only as “Parkland murderer” — would be cremated after his death and that his ashes would be thrown into the garbage dump.

“You know why?” he asked in court. “Because garbage to garbage.”

Prosecutors and victims described Cruz as a cold, calculated killer. He was 19 in 2018, when he brought an AR-15 rifle into his former high school and began firing in hallways.

“What he wanted to do, what his plan was and what he did was to murder children at school and their caretakers,” prosecutor Mike Satz said during closing statements. “This plan was goal-directed, it was calculated, it was purposeful and it was a systematic massacre.”

Defense attorneys framed Cruz as a victim of difficult family life and mental health struggles.

“He was poisoned in the womb,” public defender Melisa McNeill said in closing statements, referencing the fact that her client’s birth mother abused drugs and alcohol while pregnant with him, according to CNN. “Because of that his brain was irretrievably broken, through no fault of his own.”

Cruz pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder in October 2021. In court, he apologized and said he believed that families of the victims should determine his punishment.

“I believe it’s your decision to decide where I go and whether I live or die — not the jury’s,” he said. “I believe it’s your decision. I’m sorry.”

Fourteen students were among the 17 people killed on Feb. 14, 2018. Authorities identified them as Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Martin Duque, 14; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Alaina Petty, 14; Alex Schachter, 14; Luke Hoyer, 15; Peter Wang, 15; Carmen Schentrup, 16; Nick Dworet, 17; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Helena Ramsay, 17; and Meadow Pollack, 18.

The shooting also claimed the lives of the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach, Christopher Hixon, 49; football coach Aaron Feis, 37; and geography teacher and cross-country coach Scott Beigel, 35.

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