The man who admitted to murdering 17 people in a high school in Florida should have been sentenced to death, the state’s governor said on Oct. 13.
“I think that if you have a death penalty at all, that is a case where you’re massacring those students with premeditation and utter disregard for basic humanity, that you deserve the death penalty,” Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, told reporters at an unrelated press conference in Cape Coral.
Charlie Crist, a Democrat challenging DeSantis, agreed.
“There are crimes for which the only just penalty is death. The Parkland families and community deserved that degree of justice,” Crist wrote on Twitter.
Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to shooting 14 students and three adults dead in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018. He also admitted to attempting to murder 17 others.
But a jury could not reach a unanimous decision on sentencing Cruz to death, meaning he will spend life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Under Florida law, a death sentence requires a unanimous vote on at least one count. The seven-man, five-woman jury unanimously agreed there were aggravating factors to warrant a possible death sentence, such as agreeing that the murders were “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.”
But one or more jurors also found mitigating factors, such as untreated childhood issues. In the end, the jury could not agree that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating ones, so Cruz will get life without parole.
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer will formally issue the life sentences Nov. 1. Relatives, along with the students and teachers Cruz wounded, will be given the opportunity to speak.
Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas, in an interview broadcast on local TV station WPLG, indicated more than one juror voted for life in prison.
“We went through all the evidence and some of the jurors just felt that was the appropriate sentence,” Thomas said. “I didn’t vote that way, so I’m not happy with how it worked out, but everyone has the right to decide for themselves.”
“That means that this killer is going to end up getting the same sentence as people who have committed bad acts but acts that did not rise to this level,” DeSantis said. “I just don’t think anything else is appropriate except the capital sentence in this case. So I was very disappointed to see that. I’m also disappointed that we’re four-and-a-half years after those killings and we’re just now getting this. They used to do this, he would have been executed in six months. He’s guilty. Everybody knew that from the beginning, and yet it takes years and years in this legal system that is not serving the interest of victims.”
Numerous family members of victims also expressed disappointment with Cruz avoiding the death penalty.
“Our justice system should have been used to punish this shooter to the fullest extent of the law,” Tony Montalto, father of 14-year-old Gina Montalto, said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.