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Parkland shooting victims' families address gunman ahead of sentencing: "I pray that you are tormented and tortured"

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Victims' loved ones address Parkland gunman
"You are a monster": Parkland shooting victims' loved ones address gunman ahead of sentencing 03:33

The Parkland school shooter's two-day sentencing hearing began Tuesday with the families of the 17 people he murdered addressing him in emotional and often angry terms about the devastation he brought to their lives.

Rebecca Jarquin spoke on behalf of a grandmother of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, who was killed by Nikolas Cruz in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

"You made a decision, and I pray that you are tormented and tortured both physically and mentally because of it," Jarquin read from a statement. "… I'm tortured every day knowing that I won't receive a call saying, 'Grandma, can you,' or, 'Grandma, I love you.' All I have now are the memories."

After the gunman was spared from a death sentence last month, Alyssa's parents, Ilan and Lori Alhadeff, criticized the jury's decision.

"I'm disgusted with our legal system. I'm disgusted with those jurors," Ilan Alhadeff said. "That you can allow 17 dead and 17 others shot and wounded and not give the death penalty? What do we have the death penalty for?"

During Tuesday's hearing, Debra Hixon — the wife of athletic director Chris Hixon, a Navy veteran who died trying to stop the shooting — was the first to address the gunman. The killer wore a bright red jail jumpsuit and showed no emotion from behind a face mask.

"You stole him from us, and you did not receive the justice that you deserved," Debra Hixon said. "There is no mitigating circumstance that will outweigh the heinous and cruel way you stole him from us."

Chris Hixon was wounded and fell to the floor, where the gunman shot him again. He spent more than 10 minutes trying to get back on his feet before he died.

"You were given a gift, a gift of grace and mercy — something you did not show to any of your victims," Debra Hixon told the gunman. "I wish nothing for you today. After today, I don't care what happens to you. You'll be sent to jail, you'll begin your punishment, you'll be a number, and for me you will cease to exist."

Shara Kaplan reacts as she hears that Nikolas Cruz will not receive the death penalty as the verdicts are announced in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, October 13, 2022.
Shara Kaplan reacts as she hears that Nikolas Cruz will not receive the death penalty as the verdicts are announced in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, October 13, 2022. Kaplan's daughter, Meadow Polack, was killed in the 2018 shootings. Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Pool via Reuters

After the families of the deceased and the 17 people the gunman wounded get their chance to speak, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Wednesday will formally sentence him to life in prison without parole. She has no other option as the jury in his recently concluded penalty trial could not unanimously agree that the 24-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student deserved a death sentence.

The families gave highly emotional statements during the trial, but were restricted about what they could tell jurors: They could only describe their loved ones and the toll the killings had on their lives. The wounded could only say what happened to them.

They were barred from addressing the gunman directly or saying anything about him — a violation would have risked a mistrial. And the jurors were told they couldn't consider the family statements as aggravating factors as they weighed whether the gunman should die.

Now, the grieving and the scarred can speak directly to the gunman, if they choose.

One who will not is Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was shot by the gunman in the back as she tried to flee. He tweeted Tuesday that it won't change anything if he addresses "the monster" who murdered his daughter, the defense team he believes "gave up its humanity" to defend him or the teacher he says faked heroism. He would thank the prosecutors and others who supported the families, but said that won't make a difference either.

"The reality is that I will still visit Jaime at the cemetery and the monster's fate will not change. It has already been decided. With that decision made, the monster is out of my head," Guttenberg wrote. He said he will think of the gunman only two more times — when he watches him being sentenced and "when I read news reporting of the prison justice that he will eventually receive."

The gunman's attorneys say he is not expected to speak. He apologized in court last year after pleading guilty to the murders and attempted murders — but families told reporters they found the apology self-serving and aimed at garnering sympathy.

That plea set the stage for a three-month penalty trial that ended Oct. 13 with the jury voting 9-3 for a death sentence — jurors said those voting for life believed the gunman is mentally ill and should be spared. Under Florida law, a death sentence requires unanimity.

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