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Nikolas Cruz penalty trial verdict: Jury recommends life in prison without parole

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Parkland prosecutors file new motion 03:06

FORT LAUDERDALE - The jury in the penalty trial of Parkland school gunman Nikolas Cruz has voted to sentence him to life in prison without parole.

Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty last year to the murders of 14 students and three staff members at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th, 2018. The trial has only been to determine his sentence.   


Local leaders respond to Parkland jury decision

Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Vickie L. Cartwright:

"Our district understands that the jury's recommendation in the sentencing phase of the trial will impact our students, staff, families and the entire community. Our thoughts and support are with the families of the victims of the tragedy. We have mental health professionals at each school in the district. Additional personnel are being deployed to schools throughout our District and stand ready to assist those in need."

Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor:

"The dreadful, horrific crimes perpetrated by this school mass shooter in Parkland on Valentine's Day of 2018 have changed our community and will continue to impact all of us forever more. The parents and families of the schoolchildren and the staff members who were massacred lost so much and our hearts are with them. We hope they know that all of us lost 17 wonderful people that day and that our world is a poorer and sadder place without them. To the survivors, please know that you are not forgotten in this and that we respect and salute your courage in all that you have endured.

By Nadirah Sabir

Juror, allegedly opposed to death sentence, wrote letter to judge

FORT LAUERDALE -- A juror who allegedly was a lone holdout and was accused of saying she would not support the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz sent a handwritten letter to the judge to refute those accusations.

The juror, who is from Pembroke Pines, told Judge Elizabeth Scherer that she lived up to the terms of the oath of service she took.

"This allegation is untrue and I maintained my oath to the court and I would be fair and unbiased," the woman wrote. "The deliberations were very tense and some jurors became extremely unhappy once I mentioned that I would vote for life."

The jury spared Cruz, 24, from the death penalty Thursday for killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, sending him to prison for the remainder of his life in a decision that left many families of the victims angered, baffled and in tears.

By Nadirah Sabir

Verdict reaction in Nikolas Cruz penalty trial

Parkland Trial: Families say they got no justice, no closure 02:21
By CBS Miami Team

Ryan Petty said it was one juror who prevented the recommendation of the death penalty

Ryan Petty, father of Parkland victim, Alaina Petty called verdict hearbreaking 07:02
By CBS Miami Team

Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas said it came down to a juror who believed Cruz was mentally ill and the mentally ill should not get the death penalty.

Parkland gunman sentencing trial jury foreman Benjamin Thomas said it didn't go the way he would hav 04:17
By CBS Miami Team

Patricia Oliver said the verdict is a disservice to the family of those that died and the Parkland community as a whole.

Mother, sister of Joaquin Oliver, who died in Parkland shooting, shocked that death penalty was not 05:20
By CBS Miami Team

Parents of Scott Beigel, who died in the Parkland shooting, said if this was not the most perfect death penalty case, why do we have the death penalty at all?

Parents of Parkland victim Scott Beigel said Cruz is an animal that deserves to die 10:58
By CBS Miami Team

Family of Parkland victim Helena Ramsay says justice was not served

Family of Parkland victim Helena Ramsay said the verdict sends the wrong message 10:48
By CBS Miami Team

Fred Guttenberg is angered by verdict in death of his daughter

Father of Parkland school shooting victim stunned, devastated by verdict 08:18
By CBS Miami Team

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter died in attack, is stunned, devastated by the verdict

By CBS Miami Team

Tony Montalto, whose daughter was killed in the shooting, said the jury lost sight of the real victims

Father of victim calls jury decision a "gut punch" 10:34
By CBS Miami Team

Parents of Parkland victim outraged by verdict

Alhadeff's upset with jury's verdict 09:04
By CBS Miami Team

Debbie Hixon, who lost her husband Chris in the shooting, said to her the verdict meant this one life was meant more than the lives of the 17 who died

Debbie Hixon, wife of Parkland victim, shocked by verdict 10:08
By CBS Miami Team

Former assistant state attorney was surprised at speed of verdict

Former Broward assistant state attorney weighs in verdict 11:02
By CBS Miami Team

Jury recommends life sentence

FORT LAUDERDALE - The jury in the penalty trial of Parkland school gunman Nikolas Cruz has voted to recommend a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

To reach that decision, each juror had to vote 17 times - once for each victim. In their votes, jurors unanimously found that the established aggravating factors were sufficient to warrant a possible sentence of death. However, the jury found the mitigating factors outweighed the aggravating factors.

The decision was made on the second day of jury deliberations. Judge Elizabeth Scherer cannot overrule the jury.

"We are beyond disappointed with the outcome today," Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter, Alyssa was killed, said at a news conference after the jury's decision was announced.

"This should have been the death penalty, 100%. Seventeen people were brutally murdered on Feb. 14, 2018. I sent my daughter to school and she was shot eight times. I am so beyond disappointed and frustrated with this outcome . I cannot understand. I just don't understand." 

Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty a year ago to murdering 14 students and three staff members and wounding 17 others on February 14th, 2018. Cruz said he chose Valentine's Day to make it impossible for Stoneman Douglas students to celebrate the holiday ever again.

The verdict marks an end to a three-month trial that included graphic videos, photos and testimony from the massacre and its aftermath, heart-wrenching testimony from victims' family members and a tour of the still blood-spattered building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Sentencing is set for November 1st.  

After he is sentenced, the Florida Department of Corrections will assign him to a maximum security prison where he would be part of the general population.

The massacre is the deadliest mass shooting that has ever gone to trial in the U.S. Nine other people in the U.S. who fatally shot at least 17 people died during or immediately after their attacks by suicide or police gunfire. The suspect in the 2019 massacre of 23 at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart is awaiting trial. 

By CBS Miami Team

The jury has reached a verdict

The jury has reached a verdict. The decision came on the second day of deliberations.

The verdict will be read in court at 10:30 a.m.  

Jury reaches verdict in Nikolas Cruz penalty trial 01:08
By John MacLauchlan

Jury asked to see Cruz's AR 15 rifle

Day 2 of deliberations for Parkland school shooter jury 01:44
By CBS Miami Team

Jury deliberatons - Day 1

On Wednesday, they deliberated for about six hours, including asking to have read back to them the prosecution's cross-examination of a defense psychologist Dr. Paul Connor who said Cruz suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. They also asked for a read back of Dr. Robert Denny's testimony, he was the neuropsychologist who interviewed Cruz in jail.

After hearing Connor's testimony, jurors decided not to hear Denney's again.

Late in the day, they asked to examine Cruz's AR-15 rifle. That led to an exchange between the prosecution and Judge Elizabeth Scherer. The judge initially said she intended to send the firearm to the jury, but was unable to because of "security reasons." The Broward County Sheriff's Office did not want to take the unloaded, inoperable firearm back to the jury room at that time.

Lead prosecutor Michael Satz objected.  

"Judge I tried I can't tell you how many cases and the gun has always gone back. This is just ridiculous, that's all I'm saying," said prosecutor Mike Satz.  

The sheriff's office did not have the proper safety equipment to make that happen, so the issue will be resolved on Thursday.

The seven-man, five-woman panel can go through all the evidence, pictures, videos, and witness testimony to help them make a decision.

They have no time limit to decide.

By CBS Miami Team

What's required for Cruz to get the death penalty

The jury is sequestered, staying at an undisclosed hotel with no cell phones and no television. Jurors are allowed one phone call a day and that will be monitored by a law enforcement officer.

The jurors will be voting 17 times - once for each victim. For the jurors to recommend a death sentence for a specific victim, they first must unanimously agree that the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing involved at least one aggravating circumstance as proscribed under Florida law.

This part should not be difficult - the listed aggravating circumstances include knowingly creating a great risk of death to numerous people, committing murders that were "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel" or committed in a "cold, calculated, and premeditated manner." They then must unanimously agree that the aggravating factors warrant consideration of the death penalty.

They then must determine whether the aggravating circumstances "outweigh" the mitigating factors that the defense argued such as his birth mother's drinking, his adoptive mother's alleged failure to get him proper psychiatric care and his admission of guilt.

If they do, the jurors can then recommend a death sentence - but that's not required. A juror can ignore the weighing exercise and vote for life out of mercy for Cruz.

A death sentence recommendation requires a unanimous vote on at least one victim. If one or more jurors vote for life on all victims, that will be his sentence.

If the jury cannot unanimously agree that Cruz should be executed for at least one victim, he will be sentenced to life without parole - Scherer cannot overrule the jury. She could sentence him immediately or schedule a future hearing.

After he is sentenced, the Florida Department of Corrections would assign him to a maximum security prison where he would be part of the general population. McNeill, in her closing argument, alluded that could be an exceedingly dangerous place for someone like Cruz.

By CBS Miami Team
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