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Jury gives Parkland school shooter life without parole

Families of the victims lamented the jury’s decision not to hand down the death penalty.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) — The school shooter who murdered 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, will spend the rest of his life in prison, a jury decided on Thursday, capping a three-month trial over one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

The jury’s verdict on the fate of Nikolas Cruz, 24, who pleaded guilty to the 2018 murders last year, will go before Broward County Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Nov. 1 for the final sentencing. The judge cannot overrule the jury’s decision.

Jury verdicts in Florida must be unanimous for the death penalty.  

Parents of the children killed in the massacre gathered in front of the Fort Lauderdale courthouse after the verdict. Most of them criticized the decision of the jury to not choose the death penalty.

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime Guttenberg was gunned down at the school, said the victims “did not receive justice today” and the jury “failed our families.”

“I could not be more disappointed,” he said.

Lori Alhadeff, mother of slain 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, asked, “What is the death penalty for if not for the killing of 17 people?”

On Feb. 14, 2018, Cruz, a former student of the school, walked onto campus and fired on students and faculty indiscriminately with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others. He fled the school after the shooting and police apprehended him an hour later.

The resulting trial, the deadliest mass shooting case to go before a jury, featured gruesome videos from the school’s surveillance cameras and passionate testimony from survivors and family members of the dead.

Cruz’s attorneys attempted to mitigate his 17 counts of murder by recounting his parents’ deaths and a history of mental illness.

During the press conference after the verdict, relatives of the victims said only one juror prevented a death sentence.

“I think that one juror who voted for his life will live to regret it,” said Max Schachter, father of slain 14-year-old Alex Schacter.

Linda Beigel Schulman, mother of Scott Beigel, a 35-year-old geography teacher fatally shot while trying to herd students into his classroom, said the official sentence may not matter.

“Let me tell you something,” she said. “He’s gonna get taken out sooner than later even if he did get the death penalty.”

“As far as I’m concerned,” she continued, “the fact that he’s going to have to go into some general population [in prison], he’s going to have to look over his shoulder every minute of the rest of his life. … I hope he has the fear in him for every second of his life just the way he gave that fear to all of our loved ones who he murdered.”

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