Family members of students and staff members killed in a school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018 spoke today in a Florida courtroom for more than four hours.
Nikolas Cruz, the 24-year-old who pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder, was given life in prison without the possibility of parole by a jury on Oct. 13. Although he had been eligible for the death penalty, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous agreement on any of the counts. Jury Unanimity is required by Florida state law for a defendant to be sentenced to death.
A number of jurors ultimately found that Cruz should not receive the death penalty because of mitigating circumstancing — including his mental illness.
Before Cruz is formally sentenced by Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, those impacted by the shooting were given the opportunity to speak on Nov. 1.
Cruz, in a red prison jumpsuit, a face mask, and glasses, sat with his defense team as parents, spouses, and children of the three staff members and 14 students killed in the shooting detailed the devastating loss of their loved ones.
“This creature has no redeemable value,” said Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex died in the shooting. Schachter told Cruz that he wished him a painful death and that “other prisoners you will encounter in your new life will inflict that pain upon you, hopefully 17 times over again, until you are screaming for mercy, just like your victims.”
The wife of athletic director Chris Hixon, who died trying to stop Cruz, told the shooter, “You were given a gift, a gift of grace and mercy — something you did not show to any of your victims.”
“You stole him from us, and you did not receive the justice that you deserved,” Debra Hixon said. “There is no mitigating circumstance that will outweigh the heinous and cruel way you stole him from us.”
“After today, I don’t care what happens to you,” she added. “You’ll be sent to jail, you’ll begin your punishment, you’ll be a number, and for me you will cease to exist.”
Patricia Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed after Cruz followed him into a bathroom, accused the defense team of “shameful, despicable behavior” and said that “the legal system should protect and impart justice, justice, justice.”
“If this, the worst mass shooting to go to trial, does not deserve the death penalty, what does?” Oliver said.
The court also heard from some of the 17 people injured by Cruz in 2018.
Stacey Lippel, a teacher who was wounded during the shooting, said she “will never feel safe again.”
“Because of you, I check for all exits wherever I am. … Because of you, I think of the worst-case scenario for myself and my family,” Lippel said while speaking to Cruz. “I have no forgiveness in my heart for you. You are a monster with no remorse, and every breath you take is a breath wasted.”
During the three-month trial, restrictions were placed on what the loved ones of victims and the injured were allowed to say while testifying. They could speak to their own injuries, describe their loved ones, and describe their suffering. They could not address Cruz directly or say anything about him. To do so would have risked a mistrial, per AP News.
Cruz addressed the court while pleading guilty in November of 2021. He is not expected to address the court during formal sentencing.
Judge Scherer adjourned the court in the late afternoon. Victim statements will resume on Nov. 2.