Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz formally sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz formally received a sentence of life without parole Wednesday after families of his 17 slain victims spent two days berating him as evil, a coward, a monster and a subhuman.
Cruz, shackled and in a red jail jumpsuit, watched Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer as she pronounced 34 consecutive life sentences — one each for the slain and the 17 he wounded — for the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Scherer had no other choice; the jury in Cruz’s three-month penalty trial voted 9-3 on Oct. 13 to sentence him to death, but Florida law requires unanimity for that sentence to be imposed.
The judge’s voice broke as she read the first of the 34 life sentences, but her voice gained strength and volume she moved down the list. Some parents and other family members wept as she read. When she finished and Cruz was led from the courtroom, one father muttered "Good riddance."
Cruz acknowledged under questioning by the judge before sentencing that he is on medication but could understand what was occurring.
Cruz, 24, will be taken within days to the Florida prison system's processing center near Miami before he is assigned to a maximum-security prison.
Families and the wounded spent two days verbally thrashing Cruz, wishing him a painful demise and lamenting that he could not be sentenced to death. The sentencing came after parents, wives, siblings and others of slain victims and some of the surviving wounded walked to a lectern 20 feet to address him face to face.
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The judge commended the families and wounded who testified, calling them strong, graceful and patient.
"I know you are going to be OK, because you have each other," Scherer said.
Some victims' family members said they only decided to speak after the defense had objected to some of the statements made in Tuesday's hearing, claiming they had to "endure" the grieving families "attacking" them and their children.
Lead defense attorney Melissa McNeill had asked the judge to stop the families from attacking her and her colleagues directly, saying they had worked within the parameters of Cruz’s constitutional rights in defending him.
"I did my job and every member of this team did their job, judge, and we should not be personally attacked for that, nor should our children," McNeill said to Scherer, drawing a murmur from where the families sat. "Your Honor should be maintaining the decorum in this courtroom."
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Prosecutor Carolyn McCann retorted that the defense's objection was "unconscionable," telling Scherer that the victims have the right under state law and the Constitution to "express themselves and be heard."
When one of the assistant defense attorneys said Scherer would be more concerned if the families were mentioning her children, she ejected him, telling him to go to the back of the courtroom.
Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes said the comments were inciting violence, likening them to the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband.
The defense's objection, which Scherer ultimately denied, left an impression with the families, many of whom referenced them in their statements on Wednesday.
Fred Guttenberg, the father of 14-year-old victim Jaime Guttenberg, lamented how he would never walk his daughter down the aisle. He then asked for a show of hands from those in the room of those who would never see their children get married as a result of the massacre, and over a dozen hands went up.
Guttenberg then pointedly looked at the defense table and said, "anyone who claims that they had to ‘endure’ anything close to what we endure may want to rethink your language and choice of words just a bit."
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Linda Beigel Schulman, mother of teacher Scott Beigel, spoke of vengeance when she got her turn to confront Cruz.
"Real justice would be done if every family here were given a bullet and your AR-15 and we got to pick straws, and each one of us got to shoot one at a time at you, making sure that you felt every bit of it, and your fear continued to mount until the last family member who pulled that last straw had the privilege of making sure that they killed you," Beigel Schulman said. "That’s real justice for you."
Beigel Schulman said she takes some comfort in knowing that Cruz is headed to a maximum-security prison where he will have to worry constantly about his safety for the rest of his life.
"From what I hear, child killers are highly frowned upon and hated in prison," Beigel Schulman said to Cruz. "I welcome the day that I’m told that you’ve been tortured and taken out for your cold-blooded, premediated, calculated, heinous murders, because you deserve no less."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.