A Florida jury on Thursday recommended life in prison for a former student who murdered 17 people in the nation’s deadliest high school shooting. Nikolas Cruz, 24, killed 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland on Valentine’s Day 2018, shooting into numerous classrooms with an AR-15 style assault rifle during the six-minute rampage and wounding 17 more.
The sentence of life without parole will be imposed at a hearing on 1 November after victim impact statements are given, circuit court judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled. Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.
The jury of seven men and five women returned their verdict after seven and a half hours of deliberations, following a 60-day trial in which Cruz’s defense team argued his actions were the result of mental illness and brain damage caused by fetal alcohol syndrome. Prosecutors had argued that Cruz, who had signaled his desire to become a school shooter in videos and drawings he made before the attack, had meticulously plotted the killing.
The parents of Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, said they were “disgusted” that the killer was given mercy.
Talking to reporters after the hearing, her father, Ilan Alhadeff, said: “What do we have the death penalty for? What is the purpose of it? This isn’t about personal beliefs. It’s not about your religious values. It’s about the heinous crime that was committed.” Others were in tears and hugged each other as the verdicts were read. Tony Montalto, the father of Gina Montalto, 14, told journalists later that he felt the verdicts were “unreal”.