Judge Elizabeth Scherer sentenced the Parkland school shooter to 34 consecutive life terms on Wednesday after a two-day hearing.
The sentencing came nearly three weeks after a jury stopped short of recommending the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, who pleaded guilty to killing 17 people and injuring 17 others on February 14, 2018, during a a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In Florida, a jury must unanimously agree to a death sentence. Three jurors didn’t, so Cruz’s life was spared.
Many victims and their family members pleaded for the death penalty for the shooter and were devastated when the jury recommended life in prison without parole. Cruz is ineligible for parole for 17 of the 34 sentences, which will run consecutively.
“Life is life,” said Palm Beach County District Attorney Dave Aronberg Newsweek about the sentence. “He will never get out. Nikolas Cruz will die in prison, whether of natural causes or otherwise.”
Throughout the sentencing hearing, family members of the victims were able to speak directly to Cruz, something they had not been granted before at trial. For hours, the families spoke to Cruz, the jury and the defense team to express their grief and disappointment at the decision that spared Cruz’s life.
Aronberg said the moving statements could have provided more powerful evidence for the jury to consider, but Florida law bars victims from making those statements before the trial is over.
“Under the law, they have the right to have their say,” Aronberg said. “But that’s after the verdict.”
Several victims declined to call Cruz by name in their statements, instead calling him a Parkland murderer, an animal, and a monster.
David Robinovitz, the grandfather of victim Alyssa Alhadeff, whom Cruz killed, spoke directly to the killer. He said the jury’s verdict was a loss for the families.
“There will come a day…you’re going to die,” Robinovitz said. “When you die, I have the greatest hope that they take you and burn you and take your ashes and throw them in the landfill. You know why? the rest of eternity.”
Stacey Lippel, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was injured in the shooting, also spoke directly to Cruz. She said she was disappointed and disgusted with the verdict.
“I wish I could have done more to save my colleagues and my students, whom you killed,” Lippel said. “I see you in my nightmares and daydreams. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that horrible day. Thanks to you, I will never feel safe again.
“You don’t deserve the best-case scenario. The only comfort I have is that your life in prison will be filled with horror and fear. So, I hope for you that you die as soon as possible.”
Emotions ran high in the courtroom, with many victims and families speaking through tears. At one point, Scherer kicked out a member of the defense team for speaking “out of place” after saying he was offended after a victim impact statement was allegedly directed at his children.
Before reading the sentences, Scherer addressed the families and praised them for their strength, patience and grace during the trial.
“If I could take your pain away or wear it for you just for five minutes so you can breathe, I would,” Scherer said. “Because I can’t even imagine what you go through every day.”