Jury recommends life in prison for Parkland school shooter

The jury determined “mitigating factors” should save him from execution.

Jurors reached a decision Thursday in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, who conducted one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history.

Their recommendation: life in prison without parole.

The panel voted 17 times, once for each victim. Each time, the jury determined mitigating factors outweighed aggravating factors that merited a death sentence.

Judge Elizabeth Scherer read each of the votes aloud to a packed courtroom at the Broward County Courthouse before noon. As each vote was read, victim family members in attendance grew increasingly distraught. Some left the chamber before all the votes were read.

Cruz, wearing a grey and blue sweater over a grey polo shirt, remained stone-faced, whispering at times to his lawyer and fidgeting occasionally in his seat while keeping his eyes largely downcast. Before Scherer began reading the jury votes, he appeared to check his pulse, placing two fingers against his neck for several seconds.

Scherer scheduled Cruz’s official sentencing for 9 a.m. Nov. 1, when surviving victims will be able to present testimony beforehand.

She cannot overrule the jury’s verdict and hand down a sentence harsher than life without parole.

The jury began deliberations Wednesday, taking about six hours. They asked for the cross-examination of a defense psychologist who said he suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to be read back to them.

On Thursday, they took another hour and a half before deciding.

To recommend a death sentence, jurors must have first unanimously agreed the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing involved at least one aggravating circumstance as defined under Florida law. Such a circumstance included Cruz carrying out his crime in a “cold, calculated and premeditated manner.” In all 17 votes, the jury agreed this was the case.

But the jury also had to determine whether the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating factors that the defense argued, including Cruz’s birth mother’s drinking, his adoptive mother’s alleged failure to get him proper psychiatric care and his admission of guilt. In all 17 votes, the jury determined the aggravating circumstances did not outweigh the mitigating ones.

The Florida Department of Corrections will next assign Cruz to a maximum-security prison, where he will enter the general population unless otherwise directed. Cruz’s lead attorney, Melissa McNeil, said in her closing arguments that it could prove exceedingly dangerous for someone like Cruz.

Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty last year to the first-degree murders of 14 students and three faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018. A nearly three-month-long trial followed to decide his sentence.

Cruz’s massacre is the deadliest mass shooting that has ever gone to trial in the United States. Nine other people in the U.S. who fatally shot at least 17 people died during or immediately after their attacks by suicide or police gunfire. The suspect in the 2019 mass shooting of 23 in El Paso is awaiting trial.

Cruz admitted to thinking about committing a school shooting five years before carrying out the act while he was in middle school. He bought his AR-15-style rifle a year before the shooting, after which he researched earlier mass shooters, trying to learn from their experience, and bought ammunition and a vest.

He said he chose Valentine’s Day to ensure it would never be celebrated at the school again.

On the day of the shooting, he took an Uber to school and arrived 20 minutes before dismissal. He entered a three-story classroom building and opened fire down the halls and into classrooms for about seven minutes. He returned to some wounded to kill them and then tried to shoot at fleeing students from a third-floor window. Thick hurricane glass prevented him from doing so.

After that, Cruz dropped his gun and fled the scene. Police captured him about an hour later.

During the trial, lead prosecutor Mike Satz played security videos of the shooting, the crime scene and autopsy photos. Jurors heard testimony from teachers and students about watching their classmates and co-workers die. Parents and spouses gave tearful and angry statements. Satz also took the jury to the school building, which remains fenced-off, bloodstained and bullet-pocked.

McNeil and her team never tried to question whether Cruz committed the crime and instead argued that his birth mother’s heavy drinking while pregnant with him caused him to have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. They brought experts who said Cruz’s strange and sometimes violent behavior, which started at age 2, was misdiagnosed as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and that he never received proper treatment.

The defense also tried to show Cruz’s adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, grew overwhelmed after her husband died when Cruz was 5 and never got him complete treatment for his mental health issues. She died less than three months before the shooting.

Prosecutors tried to prove Cruz did poorly on tests administered to see if he suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder on purpose to avoid a death sentence. After presenting dozens of charts showing IQ test results, other examinations, and explanations of averages and standard deviation that prompted Scherer to joke that she understood why some jurors were drinking strong Cuban coffee, Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus turned to the simplest test Cruz took: How fast could the confessed killer tap his dominant left index finger.

During tests that experts Cruz’s attorneys hired earlier this year, Cruz averaged 22 taps in 10 seconds. Prosecution neuropsychologist Robert Denny said the average male scores 51 taps and that 22 indicates the test taker has a severe brain injury that causes physical stiffness.

Marcus then played a cellphone snippet from the Parkland massacre that recorded Cruz firing his weapon 20 times in seven seconds, including a one-second pause. Each shot required a separate trigger pull. Marcus then showed security video of Cruz smoothly turning and firing shots into a faculty member who tried to stop him and another of him quickly removing his gun’s magazine and reloading a new one.

Denney said a person who genuinely scored so poorly on the finger-tapping test “would not be able to pull the trigger like that,” nor would he be capable of firing and reloading in a single motion.

Cruz’s victims included Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duque, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis¸37; Jamie Guttenberg, 14; Chris Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 15.


Material from The Associated Press was used in this report and republished with permission.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at Jess[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • KurtinOC

    October 13, 2022 at 11:55 am

    hmm.. We were told Republican Ruled Florida is tough on Crime .. Just a Right wing Propaganda.

    • Impeach Biden

      October 13, 2022 at 1:30 pm

      Broward County is a Democrat utopia. They always vote BLUE in Broward.

  • PeterH

    October 13, 2022 at 11:57 am

    It is a comfort to the heartbroken families and the community of South Florida that this irrational dangerous disturbed killer will never walk the streets again. Justice has been served but boy ….. it’s taken a long time.

  • Tom

    October 13, 2022 at 12:31 pm

    What kind of idiot are you?
    It’s a jury trial.
    So ignorant.

    • Charlie Crist

      October 13, 2022 at 12:43 pm

      👆 This is the kinda guy that does these shootings…

      • Tom

        October 13, 2022 at 12:58 pm

        Go fuck your self Joey.
        Go back to bed and bang your mommy! Incest is your life.

        Sheriff Israel and his senior cowards let him off, allowed him access.
        FBI was so busy with fake Steele hoax, mueller hoax, schiff hoax, Ukraine phone call hoax, hoax upon people hoax, they were called twice to no avail.

        You loser!

  • Tom

    October 13, 2022 at 1:00 pm

    Go f yourself you incest bastard.

    • Souleater

      October 15, 2022 at 2:39 pm

      I want to touch your soul with my penis!!!!

  • Souleater

    October 15, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    Give me his soul or I will take the souls of anyone reading this comment! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Comments are closed.


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