Florida school mass shooter to be sentenced to life in prison

A Florida judge sentenced Nikolas Crus, the man who killed 17 students and staff at a school in Parkland, to life in prison.

Nikolas Cruz appears in a police booking photo after being charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder following a Parkland school shooting, at Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 15, 2018. Broward County Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS (photo credit: BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Nikolas Cruz appears in a police booking photo after being charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder following a Parkland school shooting, at Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 15, 2018. Broward County Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS
(photo credit: BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

A Florida judge was due to formally sentence Nikolas Cruz, the man who killed 17 students and staff with a semi-automatic rifle at a school in Parkland, to life in prison on Wednesday.

A jury voted last month to spare Cruz, 24, the death penalty, instead choosing life in prison without the possibility of parole for one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history.

Cruz pleaded guilty last year to premeditated murder, then faced the three-month penalty trial earlier this year.

Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer agreed to a prosecution request to first allow relatives of Cruz's victims to address the court before the sentence was handed down. The sentencing proceedings began on Tuesday with victim impact statements.

The reactions from victims' relatives

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Westglades Middle School gather near memorials at a park where they marched as part of a National School Walkout, to honor the 17 students and staff members killed at the high school in Parkland, Florida (credit: REUTERS)Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Westglades Middle School gather near memorials at a park where they marched as part of a National School Walkout, to honor the 17 students and staff members killed at the high school in Parkland, Florida (credit: REUTERS)

A number of victims' relatives castigated the jury's decision and criticized a state law requiring that all 12 jurors be unanimous in order to sentence a convicted person to be executed.

"How much worse would the crime have to be to warrant the death penalty?" said Annika Dworet, the mother of 17-year-old victim Nicholas Dworet.

Some relatives also chided Cruz's defense lawyers, with Dworet saying she saw them "giggling with this cold-blooded murderer" during the trial. The defense lawyers fruitlessly objected to the judge on Tuesday, noting that Cruz had a constitutional right to legal representation.

Many victims' relatives directly addressed Cruz, who sat inscrutably behind large spectacles and a COVID-19 mask at a table alongside his public defenders. Anne Ramsay, the mother of 17-year-old Helena Ramsay, told him he was "pure evil;" Inez Hixon called him a "domestic terrorist" for killing her father-in-law, school athletics director Chris Hixon.

Cruz was 19 at the time of his attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 30 miles (50 km) north of the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. He had been expelled from the school.

Some of the survivors went on to organize a youth-led movement for tighter gun regulations in the United States, which has the highest rate of private gun ownership in the world and where mass shootings have become recurrent.