The jury in the Parkland School shooting case has recommended that the 24-year-old shooter, Nikolas Cruz, be spared from the death penalty and instead handed a life sentence where he spends the rest of his life behind bars. The recommendation has earned the ire and disappointment of many, including the family members of the 17 people who the shooter massacred in Parkland school in 2018.
Soon after the shooter was spared the death penalty and handed a life sentence against the will of the victim’s family members, the public defender for the convicted issued a statement in which he said that it was time for the people to begin the “process of healing”.
“I hope that the community can respect the verdict rendered by the jury and respect the process that took place and understand that the jurors have spoken,” he said.
Responding to a question, the public defender said the jury’s verdict is final; however, the family members of the victims have a right to be heard at every stage of the proceeding.
The public defender said that the community has to recognize that the jurors, after a few days, have heard very difficult and traumatic evidence. “And they weighed it and rendered a verdict. We have to respect it.”
According to reports, three of the 12 jurors voted to spare the Parkland school gunman. One of the jurors is said to have given a “hard no” to executing the gunman on this belief that he was mentally ill. The two other jurors ultimately came to the same conclusion. The jury, however, has recommended that life imprisonment be carried out without a chance of parole. The formal sentencing in the case will follow in November this year.
The attorney of State, Harold Pryor, thanked jurors, the court and law enforcement for their work and said that the families of the victims showed patience.
He said that as far as his knowledge goes, this was the first time that the story of a community’s loss and the relevant facts were told in detail about a mass shooting of such a magnitude. Pryor further said that the community might “never find closure,” yet he hoped that the verdict had brought at least “some degree of justice to the terrible chapter”.
The Parkland school shooter had killed 17 people in 2018, and for him to receive a death sentence, all the 12 members of the jury needed to vote unanimously in favor of it. Apart from the Family members of the victims who have expressed disappointment at the verdict, the decision was also a blow to the prosecutors, who were of the opinion that the crime was a “cold, calculated and premeditated” act.
While reacting to the verdict, the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, said that he was disappointed in the outcome of the case.
“In a case where you are massacring students with a premeditated intention, you deserve the death penalty,” DeSantis commented. “I just don’t believe that anything else is appropriate.”
He further said that he was disappointed that the legal system of the country took four years to reach a conclusion and that the system “is not serving the victims”.
The jury had hinted that the gunmen had a tough upbringing and that led him to commit the heinous crime. The family members said that sparing him the death penalty may set a wrong precedent for the punishment of murder in the country. The gunman’s defense had argued in court that his mother drank heavily during her pregnancy, which impacted his brain. They implored the court and the jury to hand him a life sentence and not the death penalty.
Unlike a score of other mass shooters, who are either killed by police or die by suicide, Nikolas Cruz lived to see a jury answer as to what punishment does a man who killed 17 people deserve?
His guilt was never in doubt, but after a considerable number of deliberations, the jury accepted that whilst he was eligible to be handed the death penalty, he had suffered from mental health disorders since his birth. The records showed that his mother used to abuse alcohol and drugs while she was pregnant with him. This impacted his mind. The families of the victims had wanted an eye for an eye, his life for the lives of their children, but it was not what the jury decided.
The Parkland shooting incident renewed the debate on firearms in America, especially after the students who survived went on to influence one of the largest gun reform movements in decades. It also reignited the debate around another thorny issue in American society: capital punishment, where some argued that more killing was no answer to the killing. The US is the sole western country that still carries the death penalty, and though Cruz has avoided the death penalty, he will never get out of jail.
Though the judge had sought to sentence Nikolas Cruz soon after the verdict was issued, the prosecutors asked for an opportunity for the surviving victims to present their impact statements and voice their opinions about the jury’s recommended verdict before the sentence could be carried happens. The formal sentencing is set to take place on November 1.
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