Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz has been spared the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison by a Florida jury for carrying out the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed 17 lives.
Cruz pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder in connection to the Feb. 14, 2018, killing of 14 students and three staff members at his former school. Among the victims were 15-year-old Peter Wang, an Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet who died while helping classmates escape, and 35-year-old Scott Beigel, a geography teacher who was shot dead while shepherding students to safety in his classroom.
This penalty phase trial was to determine if Cruz would be sentenced to death or life in prison for the massacre he committed at age 19.
Juror describes ‘very tense’ experience in letter to judge
One of the jurors who voted not to sentence Nikolas Cruz to death detailed some of her experience in a handwritten letter to the judge.
She wrote the letter in an effort to dispel alleged rumors that she always intended to vote against the death penalty.
“[Another juror] heard jurors who voted for the death penalty stating that I had already made up my mind on voting for life before the trial started,” she wrote. “This allegation is untrue and I maintained my oath to the court that I would be fair and unbiased.”
The letter goes on to describe the jury deliberations as “very tense,” with the juror adding that “some jurors became extremely unhappy once I mentioned that I would vote for life.”
Jury foreman ‘not happy with how it worked out’
Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told ABC Miami affiliate WPLG that he didn’t vote for the life sentence and is “not happy with how it worked out.”
“But everybody has the right to decide for themselves -- it is a moral decision on their own,” Thomas said. “Some of the jurors just felt that was the appropriate sentence.”
Thomas told other local media outlets that one juror felt Nikolas Cruz was mentally ill and therefore should not be sentenced to death.
One juror was a "hard no" when it came to the death penalty, and two more jurors "ended up voting the same way,” Thomas told reporters.
Dad says sentence sends bad message to killers
Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin, was among the victims, told ABC News Live he had hoped for the death penalty.
"Even the death penalty was not enough for me," he said. "The way that Joaquin died ... the amount of suffering and pain, the shooter will have never received that punishment."
"But now I have to deal with the fact that this guy ... is going to have a chance to have a hobby, and enjoy three meals and, you know, read every single day. I don't like that. I hope that justice appears in any way at some point."
Oliver chose not to attend the trial alongside his wife. He has not decided if he'll go to court on Nov. 1 when victims are given the opportunity to read statements.
"I might need to do that, but I don't know," he said. "I don't want to spend more time thinking about this horrendous person, this monster."
Oliver wrote on Twitter that the sentence sends a bad message to killers.
"It's a very bad precedent for the whole nation," he added to ABC News.
His wife, Patricia Oliver, told ABC News she feels enraged, and said her son did not get justice.
To jury members who voted against the death penalty, she said, "They have to live with that in their conscience. Life is about karma. They will remember what they did when the time comes."
’This result makes them suffer even more’
Chen Wang, cousin of 15-year-old victim Peter Wang, said her aunt, Peter’s mother, suffers from PTSD and “has changed forever.”
"She cannot function normally. She cannot sleep,” she said.
Victims’ families “are suffering,” she said, and “this result [from the jury] makes them suffer even more.”
"We have been quiet. We've been trying to follow, believing the system would help us, but it didn't today," she said.
Parents of 14-year-old victim: ‘I pray that animal suffers’
Ilan Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was killed, was disappointed by the life sentence.
He told reporters after the verdict that Nikolas Cruz is “not a human being -- he’s an animal.”
"I pray that animal suffers every day of his life in jail. And that he has a short life,” he said.
When asked if he was relieved he didn't have to see Cruz in court anymore, he responded, "It doesn't matter. We still have to go to the cemetery to see our daughter."
Alyssa’s mother, Lori Alhadeff, added, "What is the death penalty for if not for the killing of 17 people?"