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Gunman in Parkland Shooting Sentenced to Life in Prison

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

Nikolas Cruz, age 24, pleaded guilty to killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School located in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018. The prosecution aimed to prove that Cruz planned a “systematic massacre” and should be sentenced to death. His defense team pushed for life in prison arguing that his “brain was irretrievably broken” owing to a difficult childhood. For Cruz to have received the death penalty, all jurors must have voted unanimously. Three jurors saw the punishment as unfit or severe and Cruz was instead sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

The Parkland shooting reshaped the United States debate on firearms after surviving students went on to create one of the biggest gun reform movements in recent decades: March For Our Lives. The case also reignited the debate over the ethics of capital punishment. Deliberation began Wednesday, Oct. 12, after several months of trial. 17 separate verdicts were read out, one for each of the victims: 14 students, and three staff members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The decision to submit Cruz to life behind bars marks a blow for prosecutors who argued the crime met the state’s definition of “aggravating factors” that warrant the death penalty. 

Families of the victims were reported to be visibly upset with the verdict with several shaking their heads and a few who left after the verdict was read. His guilt was never in question, the trial was a matter of determining the severity of punishment to be levied. Whilst he was eligible for the death penalty, his mental health disorders raised concerns and likely impacted the final verdict. 

The judge sought to sentence Cruz immediately following the verdict, but prosecutors have asked for an opportunity for victims and victims’ families to present impact statements and speak on the jury’s recommended sentence before that happens. The sentencing is now scheduled for Nov. 1. After the hearing, a press conference with the victims and victims’ families was held; many expressed disappointment in the verdict and shared they felt justice had not been served and they had received no closure.

The mother of Alyssa Alhadeff, Lori, stated we should be doing more to ensure safety in schools to prevent this from happening again. Following the shooting, Alyssa’s family lobbied heavily to pass a law that called for silent safety alarms to be installed in schools. In the event of an emergency, the police would be alerted as quickly as possible and could arrive in a timely manner. This law has been passed in Florida, New York and New Jersey. She continues by saying this trial sets a precedent for the sentencing of gunmen in mass shootings, “nothing happens to you, you’ll get life in jail.”

Her feelings were echoed by several other parents. The father of Gina Montalto states that the verdict “fails to punish the perpetrator to the full extent of the law.” The overwhelming notion of devastation and shock was reflected in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ statement. He communicated a disappointment in the legal system for taking four years to reach this conclusion, adding that the system “is not serving the victims.” 

We acknowledge the precedent this ruling will have on other mass shooting cases and continue to follow the case as impact statements are made. We also remember the victims, Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duque, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Christopher Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 15.

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I am pre-med and enjoy spending my free time writing. I love to roller skate, hike, and try local cuisine. I am always open to a good movie or music recommendation.