Parkland Trial Sentencing Announced

October 15, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

We have previously covered the Parkland Trial and all of its difficulties with figuring out a team of jurors, along with other issues. After several months, the jury decided on the sentence for shooter Nikolas Cruz.

We will cover the details of the sentencing along with responses from the victims’ families and jurors.

Life in Prison for Cruz

On October 13th, 2022, Nikolas Cruz was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. Cruz had pleaded guilty last year to the charges against him, so the sentencing trial was to determine whether he would face the death penalty or serve life in prison without parole.

The legal proceeding was rare, considering this was the first mass shooter who did not die while confronting the police or by killing himself after the attack. The jury was made up of seven men and five women, which came after an extensive period of trying to find a jury that began in July.

When Judge Scherer read out the sentence on Thursday, Cruz, 24, showed little emotion. Family members of the victims, however, looked both angry and disturbed. As the courtroom emptied, relatives were seen visibly upset and sobbing.

Judge Scherer announced that the formal sentencing would take place on November 1st, 2022. The victims’ families will have a chance to stand up and speak before the sentence is formally entered. The current Florida law prevents Judge Scherer from overruling the jury to impose the death penalty.

Florida’s Protocol for Capital Punishment

Some may be wondering why Florida requires a unanimous jury decision to serve the death penalty. The ongoing debate about the State’s death penalty statute will most likely continue after Cruz’s sentence was announced.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Florida has had a long history of capital punishment dating back to 1827. Currently, the state has around 330 inmates on death row awaiting capital punishment.

Up until 2016, Florida only required a 7-to-5 majority vote in order to impose the death penalty. Judges also had the power to override the jury’s decision for sentencing, even if the jurors believed it wasn’t warranted. During this period, Florida was only one of three states that allowed the majority decision.

In 2016, Hurst v. Florida changed the State’s law on capital punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court declared that the current law provided judges with too much power regarding the death penalty. According to the Sixth Amendment, “a jury, not a judge, [is required] to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death.”

March 2017 marked the new amendment to the capital punishment statute in Florida. Under the new law, the jurors must decide unanimously that the prosecution proved at least one aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury believes the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating circumstances, then they can impose the death penalty. If even one person votes against the death penalty, the defendant will then receive life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

In Cruz’s case, the aggravating factor would come from the prosecution providing evidence that the 2017 school shooting was especially heinous—with 17 people dead and another 17 injured. The mitigating circumstances provided by the defense team discussed the mental and emotional state of Cruz and his upbringing.

Cruz’s defense team argued that his brain had been damaged from birth due to his mother’s incessant drinking which led to fetal alcohol syndrome. The defense claimed that Cruz was misdiagnosed as a child, which led to violent behavior and developmental problems.

Responses to the Sentence

Such a high-intensity case resulted in a mix of emotions from everyone in and out of the courtroom once the sentence was announced.

“The monster that killed them gets to live another day,” Tony Montalto, father of Gina Montalto who was killed in the shooting said. He called the decision from the jury “pretty unreal…society has to really look and re-examine who and what is a victim.”

Dr. Ilan Alhadeff, the father of another victim Alyssa Alhadeff, said he was “disgusted” with the jury’s decision. He questioned the state’s legal system, “What do we have the death penalty for?”

Tom Hoyer, the father of victim Luke Hoyer who was also shot and killed during the massacre, said it was difficult to decide the right punishment for Cruz. After listening to all of the details from the case, Hoyer and his wife believed the death penalty was the right choice.

Once the sentence was announced, Hoyer said, “I think what is most upsetting to me is that the jury showed the killer more mercy than they showed the parents and families.” Gena Hoyer said the death sentence, “might have prevented a future school shooter. Now they can look at this case and say, ‘I might only get life.’”

One of the jurors who voted against capital punishment allegedly wrote in a note to the judge on Thursday that she was “fair and unbiased” in her decision. She also wrote that it was “very tense” in the deliberations and that the other jurors were “extremely unhappy” with her vote against the death penalty. There were three jurors who had voted against the death penalty in the sentencing trial.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, it should be your number one priority to seek out the legal advice of a skilled defense attorney in your area. Getting convicted of a crime can lead to severe consequences, such as expensive fines and imprisonment. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients across the state of Florida for various criminal charges. Call us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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