By: Taylor Standring—Correspondant
On October 12, 2022, a Florida jury decided to spare the life of Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz by sentencing him to life in prison.
Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty a year ago to the murder of 14 Stoneman Douglas students and 3 staff members on Feb. 14, 2018. Leaving it up to the seven-man, five-woman jury to decide whether he would be sentenced to death or life without parole.
The jury rejected the prosecution’s request for the death penalty for Cruz after he committed one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. Many family members of the victims appeared in the courtroom in Fort Lauderdale, dismayed by the results. “If this was not the most perfect death penalty case, then why do we have the death penalty at all?” said Linda Beigel Schulman, the mother of slain teacher Scott Beigel.
The three-month trial included horrific videos, photos, testimonies about Cruz’s murders, and a tour of the still bloodstained building. This was then followed by defense testimonies about his birth mother’s heavy drinking during pregnancy that witnesses said created a brain-damaged person who began displaying erratic, bizarre and violent behavior at age two. Under Florida law, a death sentence requires a unanimous vote on at least one count. The jury unanimously agreed that there were aggravating factors to warrant a possible death sentence, such as agreeing that the murders were “attrocious and cruel”.
In the end, the jury could not agree that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating ones, so Cruz will get life without parole. “I don’t completely believe in the death penalty but sometimes it is necessary, like in this case,” said SHS senior Talia Stollman.
“Where he was sentenced to life in prison, and not the death penalty, he should at least get some help mentally. We can’t keep having these tragedies without just punishments” added Stollman.
The verdict wasn’t enough for many family members, who went before television cameras to express their shock and anger at the jury’s decision. “We need to do some reforms to better serve victims of crimes and the families of victims of crimes and not always bend over backwards to do everything we need to for the perpetrators of crimes,” said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
The families of the fallen victims are the ones who suffer in this case. They have to live every day knowing that the person who killed their child still has a place on this earth. “It is definitely not justice, especially to the many families affected,” said junior Carmen Leonard. “They went to this trial expecting a certain outcome and were completely blindsided and now devastated,” Leonardi added.
All of the controversy in this case ultimately left neither side happy. “I think that in most cases the death penalty isn’t the right choice but I feel that in this case there should definitely be some consideration put towards it because of his horrific actions.” said senior Olivia Nau.