Nov 2 (Reuters) – Nikolas Cruz, who murdered 17 students and staff with a semi-automatic rifle at a Florida high school, was formally sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday after listening to hours of anguished testimony from survivors and relatives of the victims.
A jury voted last month to spare 24-year-old Cruz the death penalty, choosing instead life in prison without the possibility of parole for one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history.
Cruz pleaded guilty last year to premeditated murder for his rampage on February 14, 2018, then faced a three-month sentencing trial earlier this year.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer agreed to a prosecution request to first allow relatives of Cruz’s victims to address the court before sentencing. The sentencing process started tuesday with victim impact statements.
Many relatives of the victims lambasted the jury’s decision and criticized a state law requirement that all 12 jurors must be unanimous in convicting a person sentenced to execution.
“How much worse should the crime be to justify the death penalty?” said Annika Dworet, mother of 17-year-old victim Nicholas Dworet.
Some relatives also chastised Cruz’s defense attorneys, who unsuccessfully objected to the judge over criticism of them and jurors on Tuesday, noting that Cruz had a constitutional right to legal representation.
Many relatives of the victims spoke directly to Cruz, who sat impenetrably behind large glasses and a COVID-19 mask at a table alongside his public defenders, wearing a red prison jumpsuit and handcuffs. He took off his mask when the mother of one of his victims told him that keeping it on was disrespectful
Anne Ramsay, mother of 17-year-old Helena Ramsay, told him he was ‘pure evil’; Inez Hixon has called him a “domestic terrorist” for killing his stepfather, school athletic director Chris Hixon.
Cruz was 19 at the time of his attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 30 miles north of the Fort Lauderdale courthouse. He had been expelled from school.
Some of the survivors then organized a youth-led movement for stricter gun regulation in the United States, which has the highest rate of private gun ownership in the world and where mass shootings are become recurring.
Cruz spoke only briefly during the hearing, answering the judge’s questions about his understanding of the proceedings.
Samantha Fuentes, who Cruz shot in the leg, asked Cruz if he remembered making eye contact with her while she was bleeding in her class.
“You are a hateful fanatic with an AR-15 and a god complex,” she said. “Without your stupid gun, you’re nothing.”
Victoria Gonzalez, whose 17-year-old boyfriend Joaquin Oliver was among those killed by Cruz, told Cruz that they were in the same class together.
“I’m sorry you never saw the love the world is capable of giving,” she told Cruz. “My justice does not lie in whether you live or die. My justice lies in knowing that I have lived a love that many people go through their whole lives without living.”
Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; edited by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Pullin
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