In the final hours of the two-day sentencing hearing for Nicholas Cruzthe gunman who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, family members of some of his victims have had the chance to fiercely confront not only him but his defense team for their behavior before, during and after the court case.
“This man, this animal, this piece of shit, this bastard cost the lives of 17 people,” said Michael Schulman, the father of Parkland teacher Scott Beigel. “You have the right to defend it. You have no right, no right to belittle people who have lost someone. None.”
Elsewhere in his Wednesday statement, Schulman referenced a moment caught on a court camera weeks earlier. Just before a preliminary hearing, one of Cruz’s attorneys, Tamara Curtis, noticed a cameraman manually adjusting his setup to focus on his table. She lifted her middle finger, rubbing it on her cheek. Cruz then appeared to stifle a laugh.
“Diligently portraying a confessed killer doesn’t mean flipping the bird when you think the cameras aren’t on you,” Schulman said. “You should be embarrassed.”
Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son Joaquin died after being shot four times, calmly raised his middle finger to Cruz’s attorney during his testimony, mocking them for “hiding your actions.”
Continuing to address them, Oliver added that after the nearly four week live trial“a lot of people will hate everything from you guys now.
The defense had been closely watched by the parents of 17-year-old Nicholas Dworet, Annika and Mitch Dworet, who attended the trial every day. In her statement, Annika Dworet described as “unbearable” the experience of being in the same room as the “monster” who killed her son.
But “one of the most disgusting and unprofessional things that happened in that courtroom,” she continued, “was the defense team holding and touching and laughing with this murderer of cold blood”.
The families’ statements ran the gamut, from measured to impassioned, but emotions in the courtroom did not reach the heights seen on Tuesday, after Judge Elizabeth Scherer – who had locked horns with the team of Cruz for weeks – raised the voice of the defense as they tried to argue that they were “personally attacked” by the victims’ families on their first day of testimony.
“When these people are upset about specific things that happened from this table,” Scherer scolded at one point Tuesday, “like pulling the middle finger on this court, laughing and joking — Ms. McNeil, be quiet…when these people sat in this courtroom and watched this behavior from this table and they want to say they’re not happy with it, what’s the problem?
After repeatedly telling members of the defense attorney to “sit down” and “shut up,” Scherer finally ejected Senior Public Defender Melisa McNeill and her Chief Assistant David Wheeler from the courtroom on Tuesday.
The next day, as the parents turned one by one to address Cruz, they blasted him like a freak while openly crying over what he had taken from them on February 14, 2018.
Oliver said he was advised not to attend the hearing, fearing he might speak out and interfere with the proceedings. But his voice was firm as he pointed at Cruz and said, “You’re going to die before me.” And I will celebrate when you die.
“You shot my child four times. You knocked his head off. His wonderful brain, his ideas and his dreams. You destroyed it,” he said. Although he said earlier that he would “try” not to use profanity, Oliver added that he considers it the duty of the parents of Parkland to “come here and let you know what is good or bad – when you fuck with our children”.
Like every day before in court, Cruz, in chains, faced the court without showing anything, showing no emotion as his victims’ loved ones insulted him.
Linda Beigel Schulman, Beigel’s mother, painted a more explicit picture of the punishment some parents wanted Cruz to receive. “Real justice would be done if every family here got a bullet and your AR-15 and we had to pick straws,” she said, “and each of us had to shoot you one at a time, making sure how you felt every moment, and your fear continued to build until the last family member who broke the camel’s back had the privilege of making sure they killed you.
Cruz was formally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Wednesday, after a jury recommended punishment on the death penalty. The decision angered many family members of the victims, including Manuel Oliver.
“Even the death penalty was not enough for me,” he said. ABC News at the time. “The way Joaquin died…the amount of suffering and pain, the shooter will never have received this punishment.”
Later that day he tweeted that the outcome of the trial sent a disturbing message to other potential gunmen. “Mass Murderers: You live your natural life, you get your 3 hot meals a day, you can shower every day, get medical attention, hey, even a hobby or a new education.”
At the time, Oliver – who opted not to attend the death penalty trial – said it was undecided whether he would make an appearance to make a victim impact statement. “I might need to do it, but I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want to spend any more time thinking about this horrible person, this monster.”
Before reading all of Cruz’s 34 life sentences, Scherer turned to the families, congratulating them and their testimony. “I know you’re fine,” she said, according to the Associated Press“because you have yourself.”