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As dust settles on Parkland verdict, how jury came to a life sentence decision

Tom and Gena Hoyer exit the courtroom as Gena could be heard sobbing following the verdict in the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. The Hoyer's son, Luke, was killed in the 2018 shootings.  A jury spared Cruz from the death penalty Thursday for killing 17 people at a Parkland high school in 2018, sending him to prison for the remainder of his life. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)
Amy Beth Bennett/AP
/
Pool South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Tom and Gena Hoyer exit the courtroom as Gena could be heard sobbing following the verdict in the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. The Hoyer's son, Luke, was killed in the 2018 shootings. A jury spared Cruz from the death penalty Thursday for killing 17 people at a Parkland high school in 2018, sending him to prison for the remainder of his life. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

It’s been more than four years since the mass shooting that left 17 dead and 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The long trial and criminal court proceedings against the shooter have started to draw to a close.

The jury recommended the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, be sentenced to life in prison without parole on 17 counts of murder. WLRN’s Gerard Albert III has been following this case from the start and spoke about the verdict on the South Florida Roundup.

As the judge prepared to read the jury's decision, the courtroom was packed with the families of the victims, reporters from national and international media outlets and people from the public who wanted to watch the trial.

It took an hour just to read out the 17 count, Albert said.

“Slowly, as the judge started to read out the counts, parents realized that the shooter was likely going to get a life-sentence, which he did,” he said. “And those parents, they looked distraught.”

The jury’s decision left many wondering how someone who killed 17 people could avoid the death penalty.

Albert explained the shooter’s guilt was never in question, so jurors had to weigh aggravating factors against mitigating circumstances. The prosecutors needed to prove these aggravating factors — such as whether the shooting was cruel, calculated and premeditated.

The jurors agreed these things were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The defense then provided mitigators," he said. "Things that would convince jurors not to vote for death. They included the mental illness of the shooter and how his mother drank heavily during her pregnancy.”

Ultimately, one or more jurors found that those mitigating factors were enough to override the aggravating factors — therefore sparing Cruz.

There is no appeal process for a life-sentence verdict. If they were to recommend death, then there could’ve been an appeal from the defense.

The judge will officially sentence the shooter during a hearing set for Nov. 1. At that time, victims of the shooting will also have a chance to have their voices heard with victim impact statements.

Listen to the full episode here

Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Natu Tweh
Gerard Albert III