FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz formally received a sentence of life without parole Wednesday after families of his 17 slain victims spent two days berating him as evil, a coward, a monster and a subhuman.
Cruz, shackled and in a red jail jumpsuit, watched intently as Judge Elizabeth Scherer sentenced him to 17 life terms for the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in suburban Fort Lauderdale and an additional 17 for the attempted murders of those he wounded.
Scherer had no other choice; the jury in Cruz’s three-month penalty trial voted 9-3 on Oct. 13 to sentence him to death, but Florida law requires unanimity for that sentence to be imposed.
Cruz acknowledged under questioning by the judge before sentencing that he is on medication but could understand what was occurring.
The sentencing came after two days’ worth of parents, wives, siblings and others of slain victims and some of the surviving wounded walking to a lectern 20 feet to address him face to face.
The judge commended the families and wounded who testified, calling them strong, graceful and patient.
“I know you are going to be OK, because you have each other,” Scherer said.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — More loved ones of the 17 people murdered by Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz got their chance after almost five years to verbally thrash him face to face Wednesday in the second day of a hearing that will end with Cruz formally sentenced to life without parole.
Linda Beigel Schulman, mother of teacher Scott Beigel, spoke of vengeance when she got her turn to confront Cruz.
“Real justice would be done if every family here were given a bullet and your AR-15 and we got to pick straws, and each one of us got to shoot one at a time at you, making sure that you felt every bit of it, and your fear continued to mount until the last family member who pulled that last straw had the privilege of making sure that they killed you,” Beigel Schulman said. “That’s real justice for you.”
Cruz, shackled and wearing a red jail jumpsuit, stared at the speakers but showed little emotion, as he did the day before.
When Jennifer Guttenberg, mother of victim Jaime Guttenberg, got up to speak, she started by admonishing Cruz for hiding his face and expressions behind a blue COVID mask, prompting Cruz to remove the face covering.
Cruz was convicted of the Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in suburban Fort Lauderdale. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer has no choice but to impose that sentence, as the jury in Cruz’s penalty trial could not unanimously agree that he deserved the death penalty.
Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student and then 19, wore a school shirt so that he could blend in with fleeing students as he escaped. He was arrested an hour later.
It was the second day of testimony, in which members of the victims’ families and some of the 17 wounded went to a lectern about 20 feet (6 meters) from Cruz. Many criticized a Florida law that requires jury unanimity for a death sentence to be imposed — Cruz’s jurors voted 9-3 on Oct. 13 for his execution.
Beigel Schulman said she takes some comfort in knowing that Cruz is headed to a maximum-security prison where he will have to worry constantly about his safety for the rest of his life.
“From what I hear, child killers are highly frowned upon and hated in prison,” Beigel Schulman said to Cruz. “I welcome the day that I’m told that you’ve been tortured and taken out for your cold-blooded, premediated, calculated, heinous murders, because you deserve no less.”
David Alhadeff, the uncle of Alyssa Alhadeff, told Cruz via Zoom from his classroom in Maryland that he deserves “the opportunity to rot away.”
“You deserve the opportunity to absorb the look of terror on your face once you leave this courtroom,” Alhadeff said. “You deserve the opportunity of knowing that justice will prevail at some point, causing you great anguish, minute by minute, day by day.”