Nikolas Cruz, the perpetrator of the deadliest high school shooting in the U.S., was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by a judge on Wednesday, more than four years after he killed 14 students and three staff members at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
A jury had previously recommended that Cruz be spared from the death penalty on Oct. 13. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer pushed back her official sentencing to hear testimony from victims’ families. Under Florida law, Scherer cannot depart from the jury’s recommendation of life.
During the two-day hearing, dozens of the victims’ family members addressed Cruz directly, with many expressing their grief and anger that the jury had spared him the death penalty.
“I’m too old to see you live out your life sentence, but I hope your every breathing moment here on earth is miserable and you repent for your sins, Nikolas, and burn in hell,” said Theresa Robinovitz, the grandmother of victim Alyssa Alhadeff.
“He has escaped this punishment because a minority of the jury was given the power to overturn the majority decision made by people who were able to see him for what he is – a remorseless monster who deserves no mercy,” said Meghan Petty, whose younger sister Alaina was one of the victims.
Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty to all 34 charges against him last year. His case is the deadliest mass shooting in the US to go before a sentencing jury. He faced a minimum life sentence without parole.
Cruz’s defense lawyers contended that his violent behavior was uncontrollable and stemmed from an untreated condition called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder caused by his birth mother’s substance abuse. His lawyers painted a picture of a young adult with severe mental health problems, referring to the deaths of his adoptive parents and allegations that Cruz was sexually assaulted.
Prosecutors argued that Cruz has antisocial personality disorder, and brought in experts to testify that he was in control of his behavior and that he deliberately planned the massacre with cold, calculating detail.
During the months-long trial, the jury of five men and seven women saw graphic evidence from the shooting and heard emotional testimony from survivors and victims’ families. The jury also made a rare visit to the bloodstained and bullet-ridden site of the shooting. Florida does not provide post-trial counseling for jurors.
The high school shooting ignited international “March for Our Lives” demonstrations that called on the U.S. to implement more stringent gun control legislation. Student-led marches across the country became some of the biggest youth protests since the Vietnam War.