(PARKLAND, Fla.) — Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz has been spared the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison by a Florida jury for carrying out the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed 17 lives.
Cruz pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder in connection to the Feb. 14, 2018, killing of 14 students and three staff members at his former school. Among the victims were 15-year-old Peter Wang, an Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet who died while helping classmates escape, and 35-year-old Scott Beigel, a geography teacher who was shot dead while shepherding students to safety in his classroom.
This penalty phase trial was to determine if Cruz would be sentenced to death or life in prison for the massacre he committed at age 19. The jury’s decision must be unanimous for the death penalty.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Oct 13, 5:28 PM EDT
Juror describes ‘very tense’ experience in letter to judge
One of the jurors who voted not to sentence Nikolas Cruz to death detailed some of her experience in a handwritten letter to the judge.
She wrote the letter in an effort to dispel alleged rumors that she always intended to vote against the death penalty.
“[Another juror] heard jurors who voted for the death penalty stating that I had already made up my mind on voting for life before the trial started,” she wrote. “This allegation is untrue and I maintained my oath to the court that I would be fair and unbiased.”
The letter goes on to describe the jury deliberations as “very tense,” with the juror adding that “some jurors became extremely unhappy once I mentioned that I would vote for life.”
Oct 13, 5:17 PM EDT
Jury foreman ‘not happy with how it worked out’
Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told ABC Miami affiliate WPLG that he didn’t vote for the life sentence and is “not happy with how it worked out.”
“But everybody has the right to decide for themselves — it is a moral decision on their own,” Thomas said. “Some of the jurors just felt that was the appropriate sentence.”
Thomas told other local media outlets that one juror felt Nikolas Cruz was mentally ill and therefore should not be sentenced to death.
One juror was a “hard no” when it came to the death penalty, and two more jurors “ended up voting the same way,” Thomas told reporters.
Oct 13, 5:13 PM EDT
Dad says sentence sends bad message to killers
Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin, was among the victims, told ABC News Live he had hoped for the death penalty.
“Even the death penalty was not enough for me,” he said. “The way that Joaquin died … the amount of suffering and pain, the shooter will have never received that punishment.”
“But now I have to deal with the fact that this guy … is going to have a chance to have a hobby, and enjoy three meals and, you know, read every single day. I don’t like that. I hope that justice appears in any way at some point.”
Oliver chose not to attend the trial alongside his wife. He has not decided if he’ll go to court on Nov. 1 when victims are given the opportunity to read statements.
“I might need to do that, but I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want to spend more time thinking about this horrendous person, this monster.”
Oliver wrote on Twitter that the sentence sends a bad message to killers.
“It’s a very bad precedent for the whole nation,” he added to ABC News.
His wife, Patricia Oliver, told ABC News she feels enraged, and said her son did not get justice.
To jury members who voted against the death penalty, she said, “They have to live with that in their conscience. Life is about karma. They will remember what they did when the time comes.”
Oct 13, 3:20 PM EDT
’This result makes them suffer even more’
Chen Wang, cousin of 15-year-old victim Peter Wang, said her aunt, Peter’s mother, suffers from PTSD and “has changed forever.”
“She cannot function normally. She cannot sleep,” she said.
Victims’ families “are suffering,” she said, and “this result [from the jury] makes them suffer even more.”
“We have been quiet. We’ve been trying to follow, believing the system would help us, but it didn’t today,” she said.
Oct 13, 2:20 PM EDT
Prosecutor hopes decision brings ‘some measure of finality’
Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor said that during the trial prosecutors didn’t shy “away from telling all of the horror, all of the loss, all of the devastation, all of the pain, all of the facts, all of the truth.”
“We hope that, while there is no such thing as closure, this will bring some measure of finality and justice to this terrible chapter,” Pryor said.
“The parents and families of the schoolchildren and the staff members who were massacred lost so much and our hearts are with them,” Pryor said. “We hope they know that all of us lost 17 wonderful people that day and that our world is a poorer and sadder place without them. To the survivors, please know that you are not forgotten in this and that we respect and salute your courage in all that you have endured.”
Oct 13, 1:12 PM EDT
Fred Guttenberg: ‘Jury failed our families’
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the massacre, said after court, “I’m not often stunned, but I am stunned by this verdict today.”
“I could not be more disappointed,” he said.
“I don’t know how this jury came to the conclusions that they did,” he said.
“This decision today only makes it more likely that the next mass shooting will be attempted,” he said.
Guttenberg said he thinks the next mass shooter is planning his attack now, and “that person now believes that they can get away with it.”
“There are 17 victims that did not receive justice today,” Guttenberg said. “This jury failed our families today. But I will tell you: The monster is gonna go to prison, and in prison, I hope and pray, he receives the kind of mercy from prisoners that he showed to my daughter and the 16 others. … He will die in prison, and I will be waiting to read that news on that.”
Oct 13, 12:38 PM EDT
Victim’s dad: Cruz ‘did not deserve compassion’
Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter, Gina, was killed, called the jury’s decision a “gut punch.”
“Pressing the barrel of his weapon to my daughter’s chest. That doesn’t outweigh [that Nikolas Cruz] had a tough upbringing?” Montalto said.
“Society has to really look and reexamine who and what is a victim. Not everyone’s a victim. My beautiful Gina. the other sons, daughters, spouses and fathers — they were the victims here. Our justice system should have been used to punish this shooter to the fullest extent of the law,” he said. “Not as an act of revenge, but to protect our nation’s schools.”
“I think that it puts all school children in jeopardy. It certainly sends the wrong message,” he continued. “This shooter did not deserve compassion.”
Oct 13, 12:22 PM EDT
Dad of slain 14-year-old: Cruz ‘got everything he wanted’
Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was killed, tweeted that Nikolas Cruz “got everything he wanted” with the life sentence verdict.
“Prior to the shooting the Parkland murderer said he wanted to kill 20 people. He stopped after killing 17 including my sweet little boy Alex. Afterwards he didn’t want to die,” Schachter tweeted.
Meanwhile, “Our loved ones are in the cemetery.”
Oct 13, 12:17 PM EDT
Parents of 14-year-old victim: ‘I pray that animal suffers’
Ilan Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was killed, was disappointed by the life sentence.
He told reporters after the verdict that Nikolas Cruz is “not a human being — he’s an animal.”
“I pray that animal suffers every day of his life in jail. And that he has a short life,” he said.
When asked if he was relieved he didn’t have to see Cruz in court anymore, he responded, “It doesn’t matter. We still have to go to the cemetery to see our daughter.”
Alyssa’s mother, Lori Alhadeff, added, “What is the death penalty for if not for the killing of 17 people?”
Oct 13, 11:09 AM EDT
Judge reads verdict forms
Judge Elizabeth Scherer read the 17 documents, one for each slain victim, aloud to the court on Thursday morning as prosecutors, Nikolas Cruz and his attorneys, and the victims’ families looked on.
The jurors weighed aggravating factors and mitigating factors.
The murder of each victim needs to be found to be “cold, calculated and premeditated” to be eligible for the death penalty.
Oct 13, 9:54 AM EDT
Victims’ parents share emotional statements with jury
Victims’ parents took the stand during the trial to read emotional victim impact statements.
Fred Guttenberg, who lost 14-year-old daughter Jaime, said on the stand, “I couldn’t wait to teach her drive. … I couldn’t wait to see her graduate. I couldn’t wait to see her achieve her dream of getting into the University of Florida and rooming with her cousin and living her best life. I couldn’t wait to see her graduate and ultimately become a pediatric physical therapist, working her dream job.”
“Jaime imagined she’d be married by 25. I used to think every day about that moment and walking my daughter down the aisle. Becoming a grandparent to the two kids she already decided she was gonna have,” he said.
“What if Jaime wasn’t murdered? What would these moments end up being like?” Fred Guttenberg said. “Not a day goes by where the constant image of Jaime walking down the aisle is not still a part of my daily imagination. Along with that image of what should have been her future, our future together.”
Oct 13, 9:47 AM EDT
Defense says Cruz suffered lifelong developmental delays, prosecution says he planned ‘systematic massacre’
Cruz’s defense attorneys had urged the jury to sentence him to life in prison. The defense admitted Cruz was responsible for his actions and planned the school shooting, but argued Cruz suffered lifelong developmental delays that traced back to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
“Sentencing Nikolas to death will change absolutely nothing,” defense attorney Melisa McNeill said in closing arguments. “It will not bring back those 17 innocent victims that he viciously murdered.”
The prosecution, arguing for the death penalty, told jurors that Cruz researched previous mass shootings and planned a “systematic massacre.”
“Some of the remarks the defendant wrote on his YouTube were: ‘No mercy, no questions, double tap. I’m going to … murder children. … I’d love to see the families suffer,"” prosecutor Michael Satz said in closing arguments.
“He’s thinking ahead,” Satz said, by “not only looking to inflict pain” on the victims, but also “anticipating how that pain, fear and death … is gonna affect the families.”
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