After two days of victim statements from grieving families and survivors, many of whom expressed outrage that the shooter was not given the death penalty, a judge in South Florida formally sentenced the gunman who killed 17 people, including 14 students, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 to life in prison on Wednesday.
Due to the jury’s inability to obtain a unanimous decision, murder suspect Nikolas Cruz was spared execution by a Florida court last month. Cruz was found guilty of 34 charges and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release by Judge Elizabeth A. Scherer of the Broward County Circuit Court.
Scherer told the grieving families, “If I could take your agony away, or bear your grief for just five minutes so you could breathe, I would.” Simply said, “I can’t fathom what you go through on a daily basis.”
Families of the victims spoke out before sentencing, expressing their sorrow for the loss of their loved ones and voicing their disappointment with the legal system for its failure to enforce the death sentence. Parents and friends vented their frustrations at Cruz, who remained unmoved at a table not more than a few feet away.
The mother of one of the victims, Jaime Guttenberg, 14, has remarked that Cruz’s “hiding” beneath a blue medical mask was disrespectful. Cruz promptly removed it.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Guttenberg recited the names of the victims, as did numerous others.
I don’t want to hear the killer’s name again,” Guttenberg stated.
After pleading guilty in October 2021 to 17 charges of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder, Cruz, 24, will be sentenced by the court, marking the completion of a three-month trial to decide the appropriate punishment. His trial was the largest and most fatal mass shooting case tried in the United States.
Fears that victims and their loved ones might have to relive traumatic events have been raised from the beginning. Several victims, however, have come forward this week to say that they would want to have a chance to talk with Cruz face-to-face after being prevented from doing so during the trial.
Samantha Fuentes, a classmate of Cruz’s who was killed in the shooting, tried to remind him that they had been in JROTC together.
“At the time, we were only kids. Fuentes looked at Cruz and said, “When I was a kid, I saw you standing by the window, staring into my Holocaust Studies class, clutching your AR15, which ironically had swastikas etched onto it.” I was quite little when I saw you murdering my buddies. You accidentally shot me in the leg with your rifle. You can see the scars from the hot shrapnel that was lodged into my face if you look at me the way I’m gazing at you right now. Think back to the time when my small bleeding face stared back at you. I’m sure our eyes met for a split second.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and his Democratic rival, Charlie Crist, have both said that Cruz should have been sentenced to death, making the choice to let him live for the rest of his life in a Florida jail a campaign issue. Since then, several citizens and officials have demanded that the state’s death sentence legislation be revised. After a Supreme Court judgment in 2016 mandating unanimous consent for death sentences, Florida rewrote its capital penalty statute to reflect the new standard.
There was a lot of criticism from the family members directed at the defense team and the legislation that led to the life sentence.
Do I consider this responsibility for the justice system’s failure to impose the death penalty on the man responsible for the murder of my daughter and 16 other people? Definitely not. Is this the last chapter? For the record, Alyssa Alhadeff’s father, Ilan, replied categorically, “No. As far as I can tell, the life of this animal is more important to the system than the lives of the seventeen that have already perished.
On my upcoming February birthday, I will be 70 years old. Michael Schulman, whose son Scott Beigel was murdered while defending students, hoped on his birthday that he would get news that Beigel was dead and that the judicial system had completed its work in prison. I pray for a long, painful death for you.