Nikolas Cruz: Florida school gunman sentenced to life in prison - will he face death penalty?

Nikolas Cruz shot and murdered 17 people during an attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February 2018

Watch more of our videos on Shots!
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

A school gunman who murdered 17 people at a school in Parkland, Florida has dodged the death penalty.

Nikolas Cruz, 24, will be jailed for life without parole after he pleaded guilty to the crime. The attack, which took place in 2018, remains the deadliest high school shooting in US history.

The jury returned the life sentence recommendation after failing to unanimously agree on handing down the death penalty. Members of the victims’ families were in court as the verdict was read out, with many shaking their heads or covering their faces.

Nikolas Cruz shot and murdered 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018. (Credit: Getty Images)Nikolas Cruz shot and murdered 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018. (Credit: Getty Images)
Nikolas Cruz shot and murdered 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018. (Credit: Getty Images)

What happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland?

Cruz entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on 14 February 2018 at around 2:20pm. He would later say that the reason he chose to attack the school on Valentine’s Day was so that the school commuity could never celebrate the holiday again.

The former student weilded an semi-automatic rifle as he made is way into the building and began shooting at students and staff members. Cruz murdered 14 students and three members of staff, while also injuring 17 others.

Victims of the shooting included:

  • Alyssa Alhadeff, 14
  • Jaime Guttenberg, 14
  • Joaquin Oliver, 17
  • Carmen Schentrup, 16
  • Alaina Petty, 14
  • Peter Wang, 15
  • Martin Duque, 14
  • Luke Hoyer, 15
  • Meadow Pollack, 18
  • Nicholas Dworet, 17
  • Cara Loughran, 14
  • Helena Ramsey, 17
  • Gina Montalto, 14
  • Alex Schachter, 14
  • Scott Beigel, 35
  • Chris Hixon, 49
  • Aaron Feis, 37

Shortly after the attack, Cruz fled the scene on foot, trying to blend into the crowds of other students fleeing. However, police eventually tracked and arrested the gunman approximately one hour later.

What happened at Cruz’s trial?

The trial for Cruz was originally expected to begin in January 2022, after he pleaded guilty to all charges in October 2021. However, this trial was delayed due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and associated delays.

It eventually began on 18 July 2022, before the jury returned their verdict on 13 October 2022.

The jury was shown graphic videos and pictures from the scene of the shooting. They also heard testimony from many family members of the victims, while also being taken on a tour of the school, which still remains in the condition it was left on the day of the attack.

Deliberations lasted a total of seven hours before he jury returned with their recommendation. They recommended that Cruz be sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Prosecutors had agrued for the death penalty. Under Florida law, the jury has to return a unanimous decision for the death pentaly to be handed down.

“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 February 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.”

Tony Montalto, father of Gina Montalto, added: “How can the mitigating factors make this shooter, who they recognised committed this terrible act — acts, plural — shooting, some victims more than once on a pass, pressing the barrel of his weapon to my daughter’s chest. That doesn’t outweigh that poor little what’s-his-name had a tough upbringing?”

Cruz’s defence team never denied the violent act the 24-year-old conducted, but argued to the jury that the young man was heavily influenced by his upbringing. His lead attorney Melisa McNeill argued that he may have foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, after she said they believd his mother drank during pregnancy.

Additionally, the defence team called on experts, many of whom said that Cruz’s violent behaviour was misdiagnosed as ADHD. They argued that this overwhemled his adoptive mother, and that he was not able to get the correct treatment. His team also alleged on cross-examination that Cruz has been molested and raped as a young boy by his 12-year-old neighbour.

The prosecutors refuted the point that Cruz suffered from foetal alcohol damage, instead insisting that he suffered from anti social personality disorder. Cruz was also argued to have faked brain damage during testing, pointing out that he was able to move but chose not to.

Related topics: