Angry survivors of the Parkland school shooting and relatives of the bereaved victims faced the gunman in court before he was sentenced to life in prison, testifying Tuesday about their loved ones and the sense of security that was robbed of them, expressing outrage at the jury’s decision not to recommend. Kills.
“You don’t know me, but you tried to kill me,” teacher Stacey Label told Nicholas Cruz, who attended court in a red prison jumpsuit, thick glasses and a medical mask. “The person I was at 2:20 (noon) on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, is not the same as who is standing here today. I am broken and changed, and I will never look at the world the same way again.”
Many of those who took the stage spoke directly to Cruise, including the victim’s widow Christopher Hickson, who told the gunman he did not get the justice he deserved: “I received a gift—a gift of grace and mercy,” Debra Hickson said, “something you never showed any of your victims.” .
After a month-long trial to decide whether Cruz should receive the death penalty, a jury recommended serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the South Florida high school shooting in which 17 people died, saving his life after a defense attorney. He argued that he is a disturbed and mentally unstable person.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Shearer must heed a jury recommendation — three jurors voted against the death sentence, which should be unanimous in Florida — when she sentenced Cruz, 24, who pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Murder in the deadliest mass shooting in an American high school, even as the scourge of gun violence continues on American universities.
She is expected to issue an official ruling on Wednesday, after hearing more testimony.
David Rubinowitz, grandfather of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadev, on Tuesday referred to Cruz not by his name but as the “Parkland Killer,” saying that while the shooter “won now,” he will one day die.
“At that time, Parkland’s fight, I hope you’ll go somewhere to meet your maker,” said Rubinowitz. “And fight Parkland, I hope your Maker will send you straight to Hell to burn for the rest of eternity.”
Anne Ramsey recounted the hours after the shooting as she waited in a hotel to learn the fate of her daughter Helena and “listened to the cries and howls of all the other families”.
One by one, Anne Ramsey said, families were informed of the death of their loved ones, until at last only the Ramsays were left. “Someone came to us and said, ‘How many families are here? “There was only one family. My family.”
Meanwhile, Cruz was in the hospital under care, she said. “You were taken care of while our loved ones were dead.”
Survivor Ben Weekender’s parents have shared his experience in the past several years as he was recovering from three gunshot wounds. Citing the trauma surgeon who treated her son, Brie Weekender described his injuries as “injuries similar to what a soldier would suffer” in combat.
“To this day, he’s still recovering,” she said. “He still has limitations on what he can and cannot do. You will never understand the pain he has been through. His life and the lives of our entire family have changed forever.”
Survivor Samantha Mayor, through a statement read by her parents, similarly shared the story of her recovery. She was shot in the knee.
“The bullet actually stays with me in many ways beyond what is my body. It reminds me of the most frightening day of my life, when I was lying on the floor, unable to move and afraid to speak,” she wrote.
Today, Mayor finds herself on the edge of a cliff, looking for a closet exit in every room she enters, her heart dropping whenever she hears a loud noise.
She also fears for her future.
“I fear sending my children to school one day will be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” Mayor wrote, adding, referring to Cruz, “I fear against all odds that there is a possibility that he will one day be set free.”
“Justice has not been done.”
Anthony Montalto III, the victim’s younger brother Gina Montalto, 14, confirmed in his testimony that Cruz is not a victim, saying he “should be an example (of) being sentenced to death.”
He should not live, said Montalto, while my sister rots in the grave.
Several Parkland families had already testified over several days this summer when prosecutors closed their death penalty case, describing the depth of the loss they had suffered. But those statements, according to the victim’s father, Jaime Guttenberg, 14, who was among the 14 students killed, did not include everything the families wanted to say because they had to be examined by lawyers on both sides.
“That wasn’t how we felt,” Fred Gutenberg told CNN last month after the jury’s decision. “At the sentencing hearing, we’ll be able to say whatever we want, including discussing how we feel right now about that judgment.”
The Broward County District Attorney’s Office confirmed to CNN in a statement prior to the hearing that this second round of victim impact testimony is occurring over the course of two days. It is not clear how many of them or loved ones of the victims will take the stand, but no time restrictions have been imposed, and some people may testify via video conferencing.
The state attorney general’s office said this week’s victim impact data does not need to be shown to attorneys in advance.
On Tuesday, the victim’s father, Alex Schachter, expressed his displeasure with the families’ previous restrictions, calling them “extremely disturbing.”
“We were forbidden to speak of the murderer, the crime, and the punishment he deserved,” Max Schachter said, “(that) we wanted this creature to get.”
Others went even further, expressing disappointment with the outcome of the case.
Megan Petty, 14-year-old sister of Alina Petty, said: “He chose to turn to violence and is now protected from the same punishment he unnecessarily inflicted on my sister because he is too afraid to receive what he has served so badly.”
Some verbally attacked the attorneys assigned to the shooter, and public defender Melissa McNeill eventually objected and reminded the court that all defendants had a right to legal representation in the American justice system.
Her criticism of the defense and the jurors, she said, sends a “message to society” that if you sit on a jury and deliver a verdict that others disagree with, “you will be disciplined and humiliated.”
Prosecutors responded by noting that the victims’ families were restricted in what they could say earlier in the trial, accusing the defense of trying to “curtail” their right to speak – something McNeil disagreed with.
Outside court, Broward County District Attorney Gordon Wakes echoed McNeill’s comments, complaining that some of the testimony fell outside the scope of the law.
Victims can express their loss. They can express their anger. They can express how this affects them and their family. They can channel these feelings towards the accused towards the process.
He added, referring to Florida law that aims to provide certain protections and rights to victims of crime, including the right to participate and be heard in certain hearings. Other countries have similar laws.
“It is not designed to create a system in which civil justice is encouraged. This is where pain and grief must meet the limits of the law.”
In an apparent reaction to a witness’s statement that defense attorneys would find it difficult to confront their children after Cruz’s representation, defense attorneys raised the case with the judge, saying they felt mentioning their children should be off limits.
Defense attorney David Wheeler reiterated that sentiment later Tuesday afternoon, stressing that he felt the comments made about the defense attorney’s children were inappropriate. Shearer responded that she did not notice testimony about the defense attorney’s children.
“Judge, I can assure you that if they were talking about your children, you would definitely notice,” Wheeler said.
You need to sit down now. You’re out of line,’ said Scherer.
Because of his confession, Cruz skipped the guilt phase of his trial and instead moved directly to the sentencing phase, where prosecutors sought a death sentence while Cruz-appointed public defenders lobbied for life without parole.
To make their decisions, jurors listened to prosecutors and defense attorneys arguing for months about aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances — the reasons Cruz should or should not be executed.
Prosecutors argued that the killings were particularly gruesome, egregious, or cruel, and supported their case with evidence that the gunman spent months meticulously planning the shootings, including an Internet search history showing how he sought information about past mass shootings, as well as Comments he left on YouTube, he shares his express desire to commit mass murder.
But defense attorneys said their client should be sentenced to life in prison instead, citing lifelong struggles that began before he was born: They said his biological mother, they said, used drugs and alcohol while pregnant with Cruz, causing a significant mental breakdown. and intellectual. that arose from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and was not adequately treated.
“Sometimes, the people who deserve the least sympathy, grace, and regret are the ones who should get it,” McNeil said in her closing remarks.
In rendering its decision, the jury unanimously agreed that the state had demonstrated the aggravating factors beyond reasonable doubt – and were sufficient to warrant a possible death sentence.
In the end, however, the jurors did not unanimously agree that aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating circumstances, leading to a recommendation for life imprisonment rather than death.
Three jurors voted against recommending the death penalty, jury chief Benjamin Thomas told CNN affiliate WFOR — a decision he disagreed with, noting: “I don’t like how it turned out, but…that’s how the jury system works.” ” One juror, Melody Fanoy, told CNN she was convinced to vote for life because she “felt the system failed” Cruz over and over again throughout his life.
But the result did little for the families who had hoped Cruz would be sentenced to death, and their disappointment turned to anger and confusion as they grappled with the decision in the hours after reading it.
“I am disgusted with these jurors,” said Ilan Al-Hadef, Alyssa’s father. I am disgusted with the system, because you can allow 17 dead and 17 others to be shot and wounded, and not get the death penalty. Why do we have the death penalty? ”