A divided jury spared Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz the death penalty Thursday for killing 17 people at a Parkland high school in 2018, sending him to prison for the rest of his life in a decision that left many families of the victims angered, baffled and in tears.
“This is insane. Everyone knows right?” Chen Wang, 14-year-old shooting victim Peter Wang’s cousin, yelled during a news conference after the decision was read. “We need justice.”
Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty a year ago to murdering 14 students and three staff members, and wounding 17 others, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
The three-month trial included graphic videos and photos from the massacre and its aftermath, heart-wrenching testimony from victims’ family members and a tour of the still blood-spattered building. The jury rejected the death penalty after deliberating for about seven hours over two days.
Cruz’s lead public defender, Melisa McNeill, told the jury during her closing argument Tuesday that life in prison would still be a horrible punishment and suggested that other prisoners might target him.
But that wasn’t enough for many family members, who went before television cameras, one by one, to express their shock and anger at the jury’s decision. Some called Cruz a “monster,” while others cried.