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Nikolas Cruz sentence: Foreman says 3 jurors wanted life with no parole, rejecting death penalty

Jury foreman in Nikolas Cruz trial speaks out
Jury foreman in Nikolas Cruz trial speaks out 02:07

FORT LAUDERDALE -- The foreman of the jury that weighed whether Nikolas Cruz should be sentenced to life or death said after the verdict that he was not in favor of the jury's decision to impose a life sentence but three others were.

CBS4 reporter Peter D'Oench spoke to foreman Benjamin Thomas, 43, outside his Broward County home after he returned from the courthouse.

"I don't like how it turned out but it's how the jury system works," he said. "It really came down to a juror who felt he was mentally ill, and because of that she didn't feel he deserved the death penalty."

Thomas said the juror did not want to change her position.

"She was a hard no," he said. "She couldn't do it and there were another two who ended up voting the same way."

Relatives of the victims who were gunned down during the Valentine's Day massacre in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were stunned and outraged after the jury returned a life sentence.  

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

"This is beyond disgusting," the father of one of the victims said shortly after the jury's recommendation was read. "I am disappointed in our legal system."

Debbie Hixon, wife of Parkland victim, shocked by verdict 10:08

The jury's recommendation came after seven hours of deliberations over two days, ending 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.

"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."

Family of Parkland victim Helena Ramsay said the verdict sends the wrong message 10:48

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed during the massacre, said he was also outraged by the shooting. 

"This jury failed our families," he said. "He will die in prison (and) I will wait for that."

Under Florida law, a death sentence requires a unanimous vote on at least one count. 

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer will formally issue the life sentences Nov. 1. Relatives, along with the students and teachers Cruz wounded, will be given the opportunity to speak at the sentencing hearing.

Cruz, his hair unkempt, largely sat hunched over and stared at the table as the jury's recommendations were read.

Rumblings grew from the family section — packed with about three dozen parents, spouses and other relatives of the victims — as life sentences were announced. 

Many shook their heads, looked angry or covered their eyes, as the judge spent 50 minutes reading the jury's decision for each victim. Some parents sobbed as they left court.

Said Thomas: "I fully understand. It didn't go the way I would have wanted or how I voted. But that's how the jury system works. Everybody gets their vote. Everybody gets to decide. We went through all the evidence and some of the jurors just felt it was the appropriate sentence.

"I didn't vote that way so I am not happy with how it turned out but everybody has the right to decide for themselves. It is a moral decision and some jurors just felt that way," he said.

When asked how difficult it was to serve as a juror in the high profile case, Thomas, an IT systems analyst who received his full salary while on jury duty, said the case took a toll.

"It was awful. It was awful," he said. "I mean things you know, things you never want to see, a lot of things you never want to see that I never want to see again. You know, don't get me wrong. The people at the courthouse were great. The judge was great. The lawyers were great. It was just a really hard subject matter. Everyone has the right to their own opinion. Like I said it didn't go the way I liked, the way I voted. But everybody has the right to their opinion. That is what happened."

The quick verdict left some wondering why the jury's verdict was so swift.

"Well we had a full day," Thomas said. "We went through everything like that and we waited all night for people to sleep on it. A juror has a heart where they are only going to vote one way and there is nothing you can do about it. So we voted and we moved on."

Asked about the emotions of the family members in court, Thomas said, "I don't know if you saw my face but I hurt. I feel bad for them. It hurts. Like I said there was nothing I could do. This was the law and how they voted."

When asked if he would ever serve on another criminal case or be a jury foreman, Thomas said he would.

"I will do my civic duty if called," he said. "But I hope not. This has been really hard on my heart and I would rather not. I hope to never see something like that again."

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