The jurors had to decide whether Nikolas Cruz was a cold-blooded killer or a “brain damaged” teenager incapable of planning the shootings in advance.
A Florida grand jury decided Thursday that Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz should not be sentenced to death for the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
The verdict, which came after just a day of deliberation, came after a agonizing trial that lasted nearly four months, featuring heartbreaking testimonies from 90 survivors, footage of the carnage and even a A heated argument between Judge Elizabeth Scherer and Cruz’s defense attorney.
Having pleaded guilty in last October’s shooting, Cruz’s trial was only intended to determine whether he should be executed or serve a life sentence. Under Florida law, a jury would have to agree on a decision to execute a sentence. If even a juror objected, Cruz, 24, would get life without parole.
While the jury unanimously found that prosecutors had proven some aggravating circumstances—for example, that the crime was premeditated, “particularly heinous, heinous, or heinous, ” and could issue a death sentence—they disagreed that the aggravating circumstances were given more weight. extenuating circumstances provided by Cruz’s defense team.
It was not disclosed how many of the 12 jurors voted to spare Cruz’s life. The voices of some jurors seemed to crack as they said “yes” to affirm the verdict.
As the verdicts were read out gradually to all 17 victims, some parents in the public gallery expressed shock. Some shook their heads, held their heads, or whispered among themselves to try to understand the jury’s decision. The family of Chris Hixon, a 49-year-old wrestling coach killed in the massacre, walked out of the courtroom after the verdict for his murder was read. Meanwhile, Cruz looked down at the table or glanced at his lawyers.
After the trial was adjourned, the families cried together as they left the building.
Prosecutors have argued that Cruz meticulously planned the massacre in cold blood. During the final arguments, prosecutor Mike Statz said Cruz was “hunting down his victims,” pardoning students on the second floor of the school’s freshman building while knocking down the bar. teenagers on the first and third floors, including the injured.
“He went and finished them off,” Satz said. “He made sure they were dead.”
Details like these, Satz argued, refute the defense’s argument that Cruz was born with “brain damage” from birth and was incapable of planning the shootings in advance. Instead, Satz said Cruz searched for previous mass shootings on Google, modified his rifle and purchased ammunition. Just before he opened fire, he filmed a video in which he said he would kill “at least 20” people.
This culminated, Satz said, when Cruz took an Uber to his old high school in a JROTC polo shirt — to mingle — on February 14, 2018 and carried out the bloody school shooting. fifth in US history.
“He has the ability to plan, to plan well,” says Satz. “He completed his plan.”
Satz argued that his own words also hurt Cruz. During a taping with a therapist, Cruz said he specifically chose Valentine’s Day to shoot the scene because he doesn’t like the holiday and “wanted to ruin it for everyone.”
After the shooting, Cruz briefly fled the school with the fleeing students. He was identified and detained an hour later, but a therapist asked him why he stopped firing.
“I couldn’t find anyone to kill,” he said.
Cruz also told the therapist that he considered saving the lives of four people—three girls and a boy, who were suffering from a bullet wound in their leg. But all four gave him “annoying looks”, so he finished them off.
“His head exploded like a water balloon,” Cruz said of the boy, who gave him an “angry look” before he was shot dead.
Cruz’s trial was an emotional rollercoaster ride for the victims and even the jurors themselves, who are said to have squirmed when video of the massacre was played. It also revealed details about Cruz’s troubled childhood, which defense attorneys hope will convince at least one jury that Cruz should not receive the death penalty.
His lawyers say his brain was “poisoned” at birth because of his mother’s drinking and drug abuse during her pregnancy, arguing that Cruz was “irreparablely damaged without It’s not his fault.”