Parkland shootings: Life in prison for Nikolas Cruz

The author of a massacre in a Florida school in 2018 will end his days in prison but escaped the death penalty on Thursday, a jury having set aside this sentence, however forcefully demanded by the prosecution during the three months that endured this trying trial.

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After only seven hours of deliberation, the jurors retained several aggravating circumstances, in particular the “hateful, atrocious and cruel” nature of the 17 murders committed with a semi-automatic rifle by Nikolas Cruz in his former school in Parkland, north of Miami.

But at least one juror felt they weren’t enough to outweigh the mitigating circumstances raised by the defense during the trial, including the killer’s difficult childhood and mental health.

It would have taken unanimity on this point for the death penalty to be retained.

Parkland shootings: Life in prison for Nikolas Cruz

The face crossed out by imposing glasses, Nikolas Cruz, 24, did not show any reaction to the reading of the verdict by judge Elizabeth Scherer in a Fort Lauderdale court.

Relatives of the victims greeted the news with serious faces, with one nodding in disagreement.

Parkland shootings: Life in prison for Nikolas Cruz

They will be able to speak at a hearing on 1er November, during which the magistrate should formally endorse the incompressible sentence of life imprisonment.

“Window on his soul”

On February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz, then 17, caused fear by opening fire in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school, from which he had been expelled a year earlier. In less than ten minutes, he had killed 14 students and three adults, and injured 17 others.

In October 2021, he pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder charges. His trial was therefore aimed solely at determining the appropriate sentence.

Parkland shootings: Life in prison for Nikolas Cruz

During the three months of harrowing hearings, the prosecution plunged the jurors back into horror by releasing numerous videos and taking them to the scene of the tragedy.

She also insisted on the premeditated nature of the bloodbath, based on a video recorded by Nikolas Cruz before his acting out. “Let my massacre begin today. Let all the frightened children run to hide,” he said.

This video was a “window into his soul”. He had “planned a systematic massacre”, prosecutor Michael Satz launched on Tuesday, requesting the death penalty.

Nikolas Cruz was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, to a homeless alcoholic and drug addicted mother, and then grew up in an abusive home with a depressed adoptive mother, his lawyer had pointed out, asking the jurors to do not give in to the thirst for « revenge ».

Major events

The Parkland attack shocked American public opinion and sparked a nationwide anti-gun protest movement of historic proportions.

Despite his psychiatric history and reports of his dangerousness, Nikolas Cruz had been able to legally purchase an AR-15 rifle, a civilian version of assault rifles.

On March 24, 2018, marches organized at the call of young survivors and parents of victims brought together 1.5 million people to demand stricter regulation of firearms in the United States.

This mobilization had not led to strong measures at the federal level, in particular because of the influence of the arms lobby in Congress.

The country continues to be the scene of bloody shootings. Nineteen children and two teachers were still killed in May in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.


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