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Jury Recommends Life Sentence for Nikolas Cruz in Parkland Mass Shooting

The Parkland shooting victims.

The Parkland shooting victims.

Jurors in Broward County, Florida, recommended life in prison without the possibility of parole for Nikolas Jacob Cruz, 24, the man who murdered 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. They unanimously found that prosecutors established the aggravating factors and that these were sufficient to warrant a death sentence. As stated in court, however, they did not reach a unanimous decision that these outweighed the mitigating factors.

The formal sentencing is set for Nov. 1 after prosecutors requested time. They want the victims’ families to have the opportunity to deliver statements in court.

Prosecutors emphasized that he planned this attack and wanted to cause as much physical and emotional damage as he could. Testimony established that he acted methodically and thoroughly, going out of his way to shoot victims again after he already wounded them.

“He had goal oriented, directed behavior throughout that first floor,” forensic psychologist Dr. Charles Scott testified.

The slain victims were: 14-year-old student Alyssa Alhadeff, 35-year-old teacher Scott Beigel, 14-year-old student Martin Duque Anguiano, 17-year-old student Nicholas Dworet, 37-year-old assistant football coach Aaron Feis, 14-year-old student Jaime Guttenberg, 49-year-old athletic director Christopher Hixon, 15-year-old student Luke Hoyer, 14-year-old student Cara Loughran, 14-year-old student Gina Montalto, 17-year-old student Joaquin Oliver, 14-year-old student Alaina Petty, 18-year-old student Meadow Pollack, 17-year-old student Helena Ramsay, 14-year-old student Alexander Schachter, 16-year-old student Carmen Schentrup, and 15-year-old student Peter Wang.

Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts each of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder last year, but the state refused to budge on the death penalty, paving the way for this penalty phase.

Nikolas Cruz

Nikolas Cruz shortly before hearing the jury’s decision on Thursday

In closing arguments, prosecutor Michael Satz emphasized the grievous nature of the wounds and the systematic nature of Cruz’s actions. For example, Cruz shot Montalto four times. Two were contact wounds, meaning the end of Cruz’s AR-15 style rifle was up against her chest and abdomen — on her skin.

Oliver sustained a defensive wound with a bullet going through his right palm. It exited the back of his head, entering his left temple and killing him.

Wang was shot four times in the head. As Cruz told a doctor after the incident, the slain teenager’s head blew up like a “watermelon.”

Victims were running and hiding, Satz said. They knew what was happening. The incident was atrocious and cruel beyond reasonable doubt, the prosecutor said.

Dr. Michael Brannon, a psychologist, testified that he diagnosed Cruz with antisocial personality disorder.

Satz highlighted testimony from forensic psychology and neuropsychology expert Dr. Robert L. Denney that Cruz does not have any neurocognitive deficits.

Cruz attorney Melisa McNeill of the Broward Public Defender’s Office emphasized that her client was dealt a tough hand in life. His birth mother Brenda Woodard used drugs and alcohol while pregnant with him. The defense started their case with witnesses who attested to Woodard abusing substances while pregnant with Cruz. For her part, his sister Danielle Woodard said he was in their mother’s “polluted womb.”

“He was literally poisoned in Brenda’s womb,” she said.

In closing arguments, McNeill acknowledged the horrid nature of the mass murder. Cruz did exactly what he said he was going to do, she told jurors. What he did was never in dispute, she said. But she said that choosing to kill is not an aggravating factor. He choose to kill and he chose to plead guilty, she said.

“Sentencing Nikolas to death will change absolutely nothing,” McNeill said.

She advised against reducing Cruz to his worst act. The lawyer maintained he was a “broken, brain damaged, mentally ill young man.”

“He was doomed from the womb,” McNeill said.

[Screenshot via Law&Crime Network]

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