Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz avoided the death penalty after a jury decided he should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The verdict was handed down Thursday morning in an emotionally charged room filled with survivors and families of the 17 students and staff killed in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Family members appeared stunned and shook their heads as the 17-point verdict was read by Judge Elizabeth Scherer.
The court found that “particularly heinous” aggravating factors necessary for a death sentence had been proven during the trial, but at least one juror found that they were not outweighed by mitigating factors.
The 12-person panel had to be unanimous to reach a death sentence.
The final decision on whether to sentence Cruz to death will be made by Judge Scherer, who will choose whether to follow the jury’s recommendation.
Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty last October to killing 14 students and three staff members and injuring 17 others.
During a three-month trial, the state described how Cruz planned his attack – researching other shooters online, making extensive preparations for his attack and recording a video where he described his plans.
His defense attorney Melisa McNeill and her team never disputed that Cruz committed the shooting, but charged that his birth mother’s heavy drinking during pregnancy left him with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
It’s been more than four years since Cruz, then 19, walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018 armed with an AR-15.
He stalked the freshman building, killing 14 students and three staff members.
In October 2021, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
In the state’s closing argument, prosecutor Mike Satz described in chilling detail the extent of Cruz’s planning for the school shooting and walked jurors through graphic moments of the attack — including how he shot and killed some terrified victims in vacuum. range.
“The testimony revealed the unspeakable, horrific brutality and unrelenting cruelty exhibited by the defendant in the 1200 building on February 14, 2018,” he said.
The prosecutor took jurors through Cruz’s extensive preparations for the massacre, describing the plans as “target-driven,” “calculated” and “deliberate.”
Mr Satz said Cruz’s online statements were a “window into his soul” and urged jurors to review his YouTube comments and his online history where he spoke of his desire to kill as many people as he could.
“It has been said that what he writes and what he says is a window into someone’s soul and some of the remarks the defendant wrote on his YouTube were: ‘no mercy, no questions, double tap’, ‘I will kill.’ as*** a ton of people and killing children,” he said.
“And on July 4, 2017, ‘I love to see families suffer.’
He told jurors that “every comment on YouTube, every search, everything that turns out you can review when you think about it”, saying that “what one writes and what one says is a window into one’s soul”.
Mr Satz said Cruz’s comments and plans online were what he “wanted to do” and “what he did”.
“What he wanted to do, his plan and what he did was to murder children at school and their carers,” she said.
“That’s what he wanted to do, that’s what he planned to do and that’s what he did.
In her closing argument, Cruz’s attorney, Melissa McNeil, asked jurors to show the mass shooter “mercy” by sparing his life when they reach their verdict.
Ms McNeill tried to appeal to the jury’s “moral compass” on Tuesday, reminding them that each of them must make an “individual” decision about whether to live or die.
“You have to live with your decision for the rest of your life,” he said. “It’s your personal moral decision.”
When they “wake up in the night” after the trial ends, he said, they won’t be with their fellow jurors, but will be alone “with your heart, your moral compass.”
Ms. McNeil said Cruz’s killing “will change absolutely nothing” and will not bring back the 14 students and three teachers he killed in one of the worst mass shootings in US history.