Jury recommends life in prison without parole for Parkland school shooter

A jury in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday recommended that Nikolas Cruz be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing 17 people in the mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The unanimous verdict from the 12-member jury came on the second day of deliberations. Cruz had been facing the death penalty, but Thursday's verdict means he will avoid that fate.

For each of the 17 counts, the jurors found existence of all aggravating factors — including that the murders were carried out in a “cold, calculated and premeditated” manner — but that they did not outweigh mitigating circumstances established by the defense.

Nikolas Cruz stands in court
Parkland defendant Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday. (Amy Bennett/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Cruz’s lawyers had claimed his birth mother’s excessive drinking and drug use during pregnancy left him with “fetal alcohol spectrum disorder” that ultimately led him to carry out the school shooting, one of the deadliest in U.S. history.

Inside the courtroom, Cruz sat silently with his head down and hands clasped for nearly an hour as Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer read the jury’s verdict, talking briefly with his attorney.

Numerous people in the gallery shook their heads in disgust. Several people walked out of the courtroom as the verdict was being read.

Nikolas Cruz in court pulling his mask down
Cruz, who shot and killed 17 people at a Florida high school in 2018, was facing the death penalty. (Amy Beth Bennett/Pool/AFP)

The decision capped a three-month sentencing trial that featured emotional testimony from family members of the victims, graphic video and a tour of the crime scene at the school’s freshman building, which has been closed since the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre.

Cruz, 24, was 19 years old when he used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle to carry out the attack at his former school. He fled the scene and was taken into custody in nearby Coral Springs. He pleaded guilty last year.

According to the Associated Press, it was the deadliest mass shooting that has ever gone to trial in the United States.

Nine other people in the U.S. who fatally shot at least 17 people died during or immediately after their attacks by suicide or police gunfire, the AP noted. The suspect in the 2019 massacre of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, is currently awaiting trial.