By Julia Ordaz
On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 17 lives were lost and 17 others were injured as a result of his actions, and four years after the tragedy, Nikolas Cruz’s trial came to an end.
In 2021 Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 charges of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. The jury was considering two outcomes: the death penalty, or life in prison without the possibility of parole. A unanimous vote was needed to recommend the death penalty.
Evidence revealed that Cruz had revealed disturbing behavior for years. Teachers from the middle school Cruz attended, Westglades Middle School, filed multiple incident reports over the years. They’ve said that he would curse at them, make threats, and draw images of gunshot victims. One of the reports detailed, “During lessons about the Civil War, Cruz became overly excited by President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, asking did the gunshots go ‘pop, pop, pop really fast and was there blood everywhere?’ When discussing soldiers killed during the war, he asked, ‘Did they eat them?’”
Cruz’s public defenders focused on his difficult upbringing, beginning with the mention that Cruz suffered from fetal alcohol damage, meaning his mother drank alcohol while pregnant with him. People with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or FAS can have problems with communication, vision, hearing, memory, attention span, or learning.
But forensic psychologist Charles Scott, who met with Cruz over the course of 3 days and 21 hours, suggested that Cruz was exaggerating his symptoms. Scott has attributed Cruz’s aggression to antisocial personality disorder, also called sociopathy, not FAS. Scott has also argued that the act was premeditated and Valentine’s Day was chosen specifically “because he [Cruz] had no one to love and no one to love him.”
Cruz’s defense also argued that he did not receive proper care or treatment for his immense psychological and emotional problems, an argument that ultimately influenced Juror Melody Vanoy’s decision. She said, “I saw several pieces of evidence where several (experts had) recommended (Cruz) be in a residential facility. That never happened.”
The defense had planned to call for 80 witnesses but stopped short of 30, surprising both the judge and prosecutors. In just 12 days the prosecution called 91 witnesses to testify.
The closing arguments ended on Monday October 10, and the jury came out with their decision on October 13, 2022. The jury recommended life in prison without the possibility of parole, a decision that stirred up controversy within the jury itself. Vanoy, 1 of the 3 jurors that voted against capital punishment, described a confrontational environment during the deliberations. “The energy was so heated that we wanted to get out of that room. They had to take us down for over 30 minutes to just give us fresh air so we could move around and separate. That’s how heated it got.”
Parents of the victims are outspoken about their disappointment. The judge will release Cruz’s official sentence in early November.