FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz formally received a sentence of life without parole Wednesday after families of his 17 slain victims spent two days berating him as evil, a coward, a monster and a subhuman.
Cruz, shackled and in a red jail jumpsuit, watched intently as Judge Elizabeth Scherer sentenced him to 17 life terms for the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in suburban Fort Lauderdale and an additional 17 for the attempted murders of those he wounded.
Scherer had no other choice; the jury in Cruz’s three-month penalty trial voted 9-3 on Oct. 13 to sentence him to death, but Florida law requires unanimity for that sentence to be imposed.
Cruz acknowledged under questioning by the judge before sentencing that he is on medication but could understand what was occurring.
The judge commended the families and wounded who testified, calling them strong, graceful and patient.
“I know you are going to be OK, because you have each other,” Scherer said.
The sentencing came after two days' worth of parents, wives, siblings and others of slain victims and some of the surviving wounded walking to a lectern 20 feet to address him face to face.
“It was extremely painful to hear all the horrific details of this massacre at our children’s high school," Annika Dworet, who with her husband, Mitch, attended every day of Cruz's trial. “Just to be in the same room as this monster who killed our son Nicholas and attempted to murder our son Alex. It’s unbearable."
She continued, “One of the most disgusting and unprofessional actions that occurred in this courtroom was the defense team holding, touching and giggling with this cold-blooded murderer."
Cruz was convicted of the Valentine's Day 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in suburban Fort Lauderdale. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer has no choice but to impose that sentence, as the jury in Cruz's penalty trial could not unanimously agree that he deserved the death penalty.
Members of the victims' families and some of the 17 wounded who survived went to a lectern about 20 feet (6 meters) from Cruz on Tuesday, stared him in the eye and let out their anger and grief, with many telling the 24-year-old they hope his remaining years are filled with the fear and pain he inflicted. Many also criticized a Florida law that requires jury unanimity for a death sentence to be imposed — Cruz's jurors voted 9-3 on Oct. 13 for his execution.
Those speaking to Cruz followed the same theme as family members who spoke Tuesday.
“You deserve the opportunity to rot away,” David Alhadeff, the uncle of Alyssa Alhadeff, told Cruz via Zoom from his classroom in Maryland. “You deserve the opportunity to absorb the look of terror on your face once you leave this courtroom. You deserve the opportunity of knowing that justice will prevail at some point, causing you great anguish, minute by minute, day by day.”
Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student and then 19, wore a school shirt so that he could blend in with fleeing students as he escaped. He was arrested an hour later.
Thomas Hixon’s father, athletic director Chris Hixon, was shot when he burst through a door and ran at Cruz, trying to stop him. The Navy veteran fell wounded on the floor and tried to take cover in an alcove, but Cruz walked over and shot him again.
Thomas Hixon, a Marine veteran, recalled Tuesday that Cruz claimed remorse a year ago when he pleaded guilty to the murders, setting the stage for the penalty trial.
“Where was your remorse when you saw my father injured and bleeding on the floor and decided to shoot him for a third time?” Hixon told Cruz. “Your defense preyed on the idea of your humanity, but you had none for those you encountered on Feb. 14.”