Judge Elizabeth Scherer handed the Parkland school shooter 34 consecutive life-in-prison sentences on Wednesday at the end of 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 in the February 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In Florida, a jury must unanimously agree on a death sentence. Three jurors did not, so Cruz’s life was spared.
Many of the victims and their family members advocated for the death penalty for the shooter and were devastated when the jury recommended life in prison without parole. Cruz is ineligible for parole on 17 of the 34 sentences, which will run consecutively.
“Life is life,” Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg told Newsweek about the sentence. “He’s never going to get out. Nikolas Cruz will die in prison, whether it’s by natural causes or some other way.”
Throughout the sentencing hearing, members of the victims’ families were able to speak directly to Cruz, something they weren’t previously granted during the trial. For hours, the families addressed Cruz, the jury and the defense team to express their heartbreak and disappointment in 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 prevents victims from giving those statements until after the trial has ended.
“Under the law, they are entitled to have their say,” Aronberg said. “But it’s after the verdict.”
Several victims refused to call Cruz by his name in their statements, referring to him instead as 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’s going to come a day…you’re going to die,” Robinovitz said. “When you die, it is my fondest hope that they take you and burn you and take your ashes and throw them in the garbage dump. You know why? Because garbage to garbage. I hope your maker sends you directly to hell to burn for the rest of eternity.”
Stacey Lippel, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher who was wounded in the shooting, also spoke directly to Cruz. She said she was disappointed and disgusted with the verdict.
“I wish I could’ve done more to save my co-workers and my students, who you killed,” Lippel said. “I see you in my nightmares and in my daydreams. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of that horrible day. Because of you, I will never feel safe again.
“You do not deserve the best-case scenario. The only comfort I have is that your life in prison will be filled with horror and fear. So my hope for you is that you die sooner rather than later.”
Emotions ran high in the courtroom, with many of the victims and the families speaking through tears. At one point, Scherer ejected a member of the defense team for speaking “out of line” after he said he was offended after a victim statement allegedly was directed at his children.
Before she read the sentences, Scherer addressed the families and commended them for their strength, patience and grace during the trial.
“If I could take your pain away or carry your pain for you just for five minutes so you could breathe, I would,” Scherer said. “Because I can’t even imagine what you go through each day.”