Florida jury spares Parkland school shooter the death penalty

Oct 13 (Reuters) – A Florida jury on Thursday decided to save Nikolas Cruz, the shooter who killed 17 people at a high school in the town of Parkland in 2018, from the death penalty and instead life imprisonment with no option the death penalty demanded probation.

Some family members of victims shook their heads in the Fort Lauderdale courtroom as the jury denied prosecutors’ motion for the death penalty for Cruz in one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. Cruz, 24, showed little emotion as he sat at the defense attorneys’ table as the verdict was read.

Cruz pleaded guilty last year to the first degree of first degree murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. Cruz, who was 19 at the time of the crime and had been expelled from school, used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 14 students and three staff members.

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The jury found that mitigating factors, such as disorders described by witnesses as a result of his birth mother’s drug abuse during pregnancy, outweighed the aggravating factors. Prosecutors had argued that Cruz’s crime was premeditated as well as heinous and gruesome, which are among the criteria that Florida law sets for determining whether to impose a death sentence.

Under Florida law, a jury must unanimously decide whether to recommend a judge to sentence a defendant to execution, which requires a conclusion that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors on at least one count of the charge.

Some family members expressed dismay that the jury did not seek the death penalty.

“I am disgusted with our legal system. I am disgusted with this jury,” said Ilan Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa Alhadeff was killed. “…What do we have the death penalty for? What is the purpose of it?”

“It’s quite unreal that no one has paid attention to the facts of this case, that no one can remember who a victim is and what it looks like,” added Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was killed. “I know it every day because I see my beautiful daughter’s face in our house and in my dreams and I miss her very much.”

The three-month punitive phase of the trial included harrowing testimonies from survivors, as well as cellphone video taken by students that day of them calling or whispering for help while in hiding.

Defense witnesses included Cruz’s half-sister, who tested that her mother had been drinking heavily and using drugs, including cocaine, while she was pregnant with Cruz. When Cruz pleaded guilty, he apologized for the murders and said he wanted to devote his life to helping others.

NOV. 1 SENTENCE

Broward County District Judge Elizabeth Scherer sets the formal sentencing for November 1.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed disappointment at the ruling at a news conference in the city of Cape Coral about the state’s hurricane recovery efforts.

“That’s not what we were looking for,” DeSantis said.

The United States has seen numerous school shootings over the past few decades, including one in May in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers.

Some of the teens who survived the Parkland shooting started March for Our Lives, an organization calling for gun control laws such as a ban on assault rifles. President Joe Biden signed the first major federal gun reform bill in three decades in June, which he described as a rare bipartisan achievement, though it did not include a ban on assault weapons.

Debbi Hixon, whose husband Chris Hixon was the school’s athletic director and was killed after confronting Cruz during the massacre, said Thursday: “It does and it should say something to society – that we need to look at who we’re allowing.” to own firearms. how we address mental health in our communities and where we give grace when warranted.”

Anne Ramsay, whose daughter Helena Ramsay was killed, added: “There is no excuse in this country for having weapons of war on the streets. If you don’t understand that, then something is wrong in this country.”

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Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Miami and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Donna Bryson and Rich McKay; Edited by Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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