Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz evaded the death penalty for the most deadly mass shooting ever tried in a United States courtroom, and families of the victims are outraged at the outcome.
Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty last year to slaughtering 17 students and faculty members, and wounding an equal number of others at a Parkland, Florida high school on Valentine’s Day 2018.
A jury of five men and seven women did not come up with the required unanimous vote to sentence Cruz to death, after three-months being presented with graphic evidence of the violent tragedy during trial and two days of deliberation.
Despite prosecutors presenting evidence that the former Stoneman Douglas student spent eight months plotting out the massacre and deliberately selecting Valentine’s Day to ruin the holiday for future students, some jurors were swayed the public defender’s argument that fetal alcohol induced brain damage and a violent upbringing were mitigating factors.
Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told CBS Miami that one juror believed Cruz was mentally ill and should not be sentenced to death.
“There was one with a hard no — she couldn’t do it — and there was another two that ended up voting the same way,” he said.
Though he voted for the death penalty and was disappointed how the vote went, Thomas acknowledged that the outcome was “how the jury system works.”
“Everybody gets their vote — everybody gets to decide,” he concluded. “We went through all the evidence, and some of the jurors just felt that was the appropriate sentence.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was vocal about his displeasure with the verdict at a Thursday press conference.
“If you have a death penalty at all, that is a case where your massacring those students with premeditation and udder disregard for basic humanity, that you deserve the death penalty,” he remarked.
“This killer is gonna end up getting [the] same sentence of people who have committed bad acts, but acts that did not rise to this level,” he continued. “I just don’t thing that anything else is appropriate except the capital sentence in this case.”
Families of the victims were outraged by the jury’s decision, with some leaving court in tears, while others lashed out to the press.
“I’m disgusted with the system,” said the father of Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, who accused the jury of setting a precedence for future mass shooters. “I pray that that animal suffers everyday of his life in jail, and he should have a short life.”
Her mother, Lori Alhadeff, said that families of the victims were “beyond disappointed” with the day’s outcome. “This should have been the death penalty 100%.”
The mother of geography teacher Scott Beigel told reporters she hopes Cruz has to look over his shoulder and has “fear in him every second of his life, just the way he gave that fear” to their loved ones.
“The first thing I do moving forward is I go visit my daughter at the cemetery because he killed her,” snapped the father of 14-year-old Jamie Guttenberg. “The next thing I do moving forward, is everything I can to prevent the next one of these from happening.”