Here’s what we know: Nikolas Cruz, the now 24-year-old who admitted to killing 17 people at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, has avoided the death penalty.
A jury on Thursday recommended a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, a decision that angered many of the victims’ families, who say allowing Cruz to live does not serve justice.
“Life in prison is NOT punishment! That’s exactly what he wanted,” Max Schachter, father of 14-year-old Alex Schachter, who was murdered in the massacre. he wrote on Twitter The decision means that Cruz will be protected while in custody, able to “read, draw, receive phone calls and email” before “his 17 victims suffered terror” before his death.
These are the victims of the Parkland school shooting
We still don’t know what the rest of Cruz’s life in prison will look like, most of which will likely be resolved when he is formally sentenced early next month.
But here’s what could be coming:
‘Verdict is another gut punch’: Parkland victim’s father speaks out after Cruz jury recommendation
The jury’s recommendation Thursday is just that: a recommendation and not an official sentence. Since Thursday, the members of the jury have explained that there were intense discussions, and one jury has reported that it feels threatened; an allegation that the local sheriff’s office is now investigating.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer is expected to sentence Cruz at 9 a.m. Nov. 1, but under Florida law, the judge cannot depart from the jury’s recommendation for life in prison.
Victims and family members are expected to speak before sentencing.
But as for the sentence itself, the jury’s recommendation is final, as Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes said at a news conference Thursday, in the state, “victims have a constitutional right to be heard at every stage of the process.”
“The court will respect that right and give them the opportunity to be heard. And we appreciate that, and we recognize that, and that needs to be followed through on,” Weekes said. “However, we also have to recognize that the jurors in this case were exposed to very, very difficult, traumatic evidence for several days, and they heard everything, and they weighed everything, and they came to a verdict. We have to respect that.”
Cruz also has the right to make a statement at sentencing if he chooses, according to Florida criminal defense attorney Janet Johnson.
Cruz, who has been in the Broward County Jail since 2018, was also sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to assaulting a prison officer in November of that year.
He will likely be in county custody for a couple of weeks after his sentencing before being transferred to the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections and transferred to one of the state’s reception centers.
On Thursday, Weekes said Cruz will likely be taken to the South Florida Reception Center.
He will spend several weeks at the reception center “undergoing physical exams and mental health screenings,” Johnson said. “They’re going to look at his record, they’re going to look at the level of the offense he’s been convicted of, which is obviously the highest, and they’re going to recommend a facility somewhere in the state.”
The facility selected “is determined by reviewing the seriousness of (the inmate’s) offenses, length of sentence, time remaining to serve, criminal record, escape history, prison adjustment and other factors,” according to the Florida Department of Corrections website.
“The most serious offenders with the longest sentences and those least likely to adapt to institutional life are placed in more secure facilities,” the corrections department’s website states. Based on these evaluations, the person is taken to the facility where the most suitable person is seen.
Because Cruz is a high-risk offender, he will likely be placed in a prison with other high-level or “very dangerous criminals,” Johnson said.
“But he wouldn’t be in isolation, which of course is a real threat to him, because there could be people who want to do ‘prison justice’ because they didn’t think the sentence they got in court was enough,” Johnson. add
According to a Department of Corrections handbook, there are a number of custody classifications for inmates, including closed custody for inmates who “must be kept under direct armed supervision when in an armed perimeter or outside a secure perimeter.”
The Department of Corrections did not respond to CNN’s questions about what kind of custody Cruz may be placed in.
Lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill also hinted at the dangers Cruz will face in prison during closing arguments in the death penalty trial, saying he will be “waiting to die” in a facility, “from natural causes or anything else that might happen while he’s in prison.”
And at a press conference following the jury’s recommendation, Linda Beigel Schulman, the mother of geography teacher Scott Beigel, who was killed at the high school, said Cruz “will have to look over his shoulder (in prison) for the rest of his life.”
“I hope there is fear in him, every second of his life, the same fear that he gave to all of our loved ones, those he murdered,” she said. “He should live in that fear, and he should be afraid every second of the day of his life.”
Parents of the Parkland victims, including Schachter, have spoken out about the parts of their lives Cruz will have to live in prison while they stole their children from them.
That includes picking up mail and seeing visitors, which Johnson said he will likely be entitled to do. He could also have a tablet with which he could send emails and texts to others, Johnson added.
According to the Department of Corrections, inmates and their families are allowed to communicate “through interactive and stationary kiosks available in general population housing units, as well as tablets.” Those services are available at all major correctional institutions in Florida, according to the website.
“And you can see the argument from the (victims’) families saying, ‘We shouldn’t be doing that,'” Johnson added. “And it’s understandable.”
The corrections department also did not respond to CNN’s question about what mental health treatment Cruz may receive while in prison.
During the trial, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office released more than 30 pages of Cruz’s writings and drawings that revealed disturbing thoughts he had while in custody, focusing on guns, blood and death. On one page, Cruz wrote: “All I want is to go to death row. I don’t want life. Please help me go to death row.’ In another, he addressed his family, saying he was sad and would die of a heart attack, taking painkillers and eating to extremes.
Also, while in prison, Cruz made images of people being shot by bullets, guns, and people. “He never wanted to be alive,” he wrote, and he hopes to die and not wake up and “my life is painful, always will be.”
His defense team argued that Cruz is “brain-damaged, mentally ill” because of, among other conditions, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a result of maternal substance and alcohol abuse during pregnancy, McNeill said in closing arguments.
And Cruz appeared to control his behavior in the courtroom, McNeill said, “because he’s medicated, and he’s in psychiatric care. He’s being treated by the prison psychologist.”
Cruz will receive a psychiatric evaluation when he arrives at the reception center, Johnson said, which will help determine his diagnosis and what medication he needs.