Nikolas Cruz, the Florida high school shooter who used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 17 students and staff, was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday, after hours of heartbreaking testimony from survivors and relatives of the victims.
Cruz, 24, was spared the death penalty by a jury last month, instead opting for life in prison without the possibility of parole for one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history.
Cruz pled guilty last year to premeditated murder for his Feb. 14, 2018, rampage and then faced a three-month penalty trial earlier this year.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer granted a request from the prosecution to allow relatives of Cruz’s victims to address the court before the sentence was handed down. On Tuesday, the sentencing proceedings began with victim impact statements.
Many of the victims’ families didn’t agree with the jury’s decision or with a state law that said all 12 jurors had to agree for a person to be put to death.
“How much worse would the crime have to be for the death penalty to be justified?” Annika Dworet, the mother of 17-year-old victim Nicholas Dworet, spoke out.
Some relatives also chastised Cruz’s defence attorneys, who had futilely objected to the judge’s criticism of them and the jurors on Tuesday, citing Cruz’s constitutional right to legal representation.
Many victims’ relatives addressed Cruz directly, who sat at a table with his public defenders, wearing red prison overalls and handcuffs and wearing large spectacles and a COVID-19 mask. He took off his mask after the mother of one of his victims told him that wearing it was disrespectful.
Anne Ramsay, Helena Ramsay’s mother, described him as “pure evil.” Inez Hixon labelled him a “domestic terrorist” for killing her father-in-law, Chris Hixon, the school athletics director.
Cruz was 19 at the time of his attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) north of Fort Lauderdale’s courthouse. He’d been kicked out of school.
Some of the survivors went on to organize a youth-led movement for stricter gun control in the United States, which has the highest rate of private gun ownership in the world and has seen a rise in mass shootings.
Cruz spoke briefly during the hearing, responding to the judge’s questions about whether he understood what was going on.
Samantha Fuentes, who was shot in the leg by Cruz, asked if he remembered making eye contact with her while she was bleeding in her classroom.
“You’re a hateful bigot with an AR-15 and a God complex,” she declared. “You Are Nothing Without Your Stupid Gun.”
Victoria Gonzalez, whose boyfriend, 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, was among those killed by Cruz, told Cruz that they were in the same class.
“I’m sorry you didn’t see the love that the world is capable of giving,” she said to Cruz. “My justice does not depend on whether you live or die.” “My justice is knowing that I experienced a love that many people never experience in their lives.”