Angry survivors of the Parkland school shooting and grieving relatives of victims confronted the gunman in court before he was sentenced to life in prison, testifying Tuesday about the loved ones and feelings of safety he stole from to them, and expresses anger over a jury’s decision not to do so. recommend putting him to death.
“You don’t know me, but you tried to kill me,” teacher Stacey Lippel told Nikolas Cruz, who attended court in a red prison jumpsuit, thick glasses and a medical mask. “The person I was at 2:20 (pm) on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, is not the same person who is standing here today. I am broken and changed, and I will never look at the world the same way again.”
Many of those who took the stand spoke directly to Cruz, including victim Christopher Hixon’s widow, who told the gun he didn’t get the justice he deserved: “You were given a gift – a gift of grace and mercy, ” Debra Hixon said, “something you didn’t show any of your victims.”
Follow live updates: Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz to be formally sentenced
After a month-long trial to decide whether Cruz should receive the death penalty, a jury recommended he serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the South Florida high school shooting that killed 17 people, sparing his life on according to his defense attorneys. he argued that he was a troubled, mentally ill person.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer must abide by the jury’s recommendation – three jurors voted against a death sentence, which must be unanimous in Florida – when she sentenced Cruz, 24, who pleaded guilty last year to 17 charges of murder and 17 charges of attempt. murder in America’s deadliest mass shooting at a high school, even as the scourge of gun violence on US campuses continues.
She is expected to hand down a formal sentence on Wednesday.
David Robinovitz, the grandfather of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, on Tuesday referred to Cruz not by name but as the “Parkland killer,” saying that while the shooter “has won for now,” one day he will die.
“At that time, Parkland killer, my hope is that you’re going somewhere to meet your maker,” Robinovitz said. “And, Parkland killer, I hope your maker sends you directly to hell to burn for the rest of your eternity.”
The older sister of slain 14-year-old Alaina Petty expressed her disappointment with the outcome of the court case following the attack.
“He chose to resort to violence,” Meghan Petty said, “and is now being protected from the same punishment he needlessly inflicted on my sister because he was too scared to accept what he exuberantly demanded.”
Several Parkland families had already testified over several days this summer as prosecutors closed their case for the death penalty, describing the depth of the loss they had suffered. But those statements, according to the father of 14-year-old victim Jaime Guttenberg, who was among 14 students killed, did not include everything the families wanted to say because they had to be vetted by attorneys on both sides. .
“That’s not the extent we feel,” Fred Guttenberg told CNN last month after the jury’s decision. “At the sentencing hearing, we will be able to say whatever we want, including discussing how we feel now about this verdict.”
On Tuesday, the victim’s father Alex Schachter expressed his displeasure with the earlier restrictions placed on the families, calling them “very disturbing.”
“We were forbidden to talk about the murderer, the crime and the punishment he deserves,” said Max Schachter, “(that) we wanted that creature to receive it.”
Others went further, attacking not only the outcome of the case but also the shooter’s appointed public defenders. Public defender Melisa McNeill eventually objected, reminding the court that all defendants are entitled to legal representation in the US justice system.
“Attacking the defense counsel, attacking the judicial system and attacking the jurors is not permissible,” he said, adding that it sends a “message to the community” if you sit on a jury and give a verdict that others do not agree with, “you will be punished and degraded.”
Prosecutors responded by pointing out that victims’ families had been restricted in what they could say earlier in the case, accusing the defense of trying to “curtail” their rights to speak – something McNeill disagreed with.
This second round of victim impact testimony will take place over two days, the Broward County State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed to CNN in a statement ahead of the hearing. It is unclear how many of them or loved ones of victims will take the stand, but no time limits are set, and some people may testify via video conference.
This week’s victim impact statements do not need to be shown to lawyers in advance, the state’s attorney’s office said.
Because of his plea, Cruz skipped the guilt phase of his trial and instead moved directly to the sentencing phase, where prosecutors sought the death sentence while Cruz’s appointed public defenders lobbied for life without parole.
In order to make their decisions, jurors heard that prosecutors and defense attorneys argued for several months over aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances – reasons Cruz should or should not be executed.
Prosecutors pointed to seven aggravating factors, including that the killing was particularly heinous, heinous or cruel, as well as cold, calculated and premeditated, supporting their case with evidence that the gunman spent months planning the shooting carefully, modifying his AR-15 to improve his. craftsmanship and ammunition build up.
Prosecutors also presented Cruz’s online search history showing how he sought information about past mass shootings, as well as comments he left on YouTube, sharing his specific desire to commit mass murder.
“What someone writes,” lead prosecutor Michael Satz said during closing arguments, “what someone says, is a window to someone’s soul.”
But defense attorneys said their client should be sentenced to life instead, pointing to a lifetime of struggles that began before he was even born: His birth mother, they said, used drugs and alcohol while n pregnant with Cruz, causing a multitude of thoughts and intellectual. defects resulting from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Despite his problems — and the educators and school counselors who worried about his behavior and poor academic performance — Cruz never received adequate or appropriate intervention, defense attorneys argued. This was partly due to his late adoptive mother who, defense attorney McNeill said, “never really appreciated” what was wrong with him.
“Sometimes,” McNeill said in his own closing argument, “the people who deserve the least compassion and grace and remorse are the ones who should get it.”
In reaching their decision, the jury unanimously agreed that the state had proven the aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt – and that they were enough to warrant a possible death sentence.
Ultimately, however, the jurors did not unanimously agree that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating circumstances, resulting in a recommendation for life in prison and not death.
Three jurors voted against recommending the death sentence, jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told CNN affiliate WFOR – a decision he disagreed with, noting: “I don’t like how it happened, but … that’s how it is the jury system works.”
One of the jurors was “no,” Thomas said. She was joined by two other jurors.
The woman “wasn’t moving” from her stance, juror Melody Vanoy told CNN. “Whether we took 10 hours or five days” to consider, “she didn’t feel like she was going to be moved either way.”
Vanoy herself voted for life, telling CNN she was persuaded because she “felt the system failed” Cruz repeatedly throughout his life.
Nevertheless, the outcome did little for the families who had hoped to see Cruz sentenced to death and saw their disappointment, in the hours after the jury’s verdict was read, as anger and confusion as they went to grapple with the decision.
“I’m disgusted with those jurors,” said Ilan Alhadeff, the father of student victim Alyssa Alhadeff. “I am disgusted with the system, that you can allow 17 dead and another 17 shot and wounded, and not get the death penalty. What do we have the death penalty for?”
“This shooter did not deserve compassion,” Tony Montalto, the father of slain 14-year-old Gina Montalto, said outside the courtroom after the jury’s findings were read.
“Did he show compassion to Gina when he put the weapon against her chest and chose to pull that trigger, or any of the other three times he shot her? Was that compassionate?”
Not all victims’ relatives felt that way. Before the end of the case, Robert Schentrup, the brother of the victim Carmen Schentrup, told CNN that he is against the death penalty – in the case of Cruz and all others.
“Logically,” he said, “it doesn’t follow to me that we say, ‘Murdering someone is this horrible, horrible, terrible, terrible thing, and to prove that point, we’re going to do it for someone. another.’”